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The Birth of Tragedy 

Friedrich Nietzsche 

The Birth of Tragedy 

Table of Contents 

The Birth of Tragedy. 1 

Friedrich Nietzsche. 1 

2 2 

3 3 

4 3 

5 4 

6 5 

7 6 

Preface to Richard Wagner. 7 

1 8 

2 10 

3 12 

4 13 

5 15 

6 18 

7 19 

8 22 

9 25 

10 28 

U 30 

12 33 

13 36 

14 37 

15 39 

16 42 

17 45 

19 50 

20 54 

21 55 

The Birth of Tragedy 

Friedrich Nietzsche 

This page copyright © 2003 Blackmask Online. 







Preface to Richard Wagner 









This translation, 

which has been prepared by Ian C. Johnston of Malaspina University-College, 
Nanaimo, BC, Canada is in the public domain and may be used by anyone, in whole 
or in part, without charge and without permission, for any purpose, provided the 
source is acknowledged, released December 2000. Last revised June 2003. 

The translator has added occasional editorial inserts to help clarify some foreign terms. And Nietzsche's long 
paragraphs have been broken into shorter units. 

For questions, suggestions, corrections, and so on please contact Ian Johnston 

Friedrich Nietzsche 
The Birth of Tragedy 

An Attempt at Self-Criticism 
The Birth of Tragedy 

The Birth of Tragedy 

[Note that this first section of the Birth of Tragedy was added to the book many years after it first appeared, as 
the text makes clear. Nietzsche wrote this "Attempt at Self-Criticism" in 1886. The original text, written in 
1870-71, begins with the Preface to Richard Wagner, the second major section] 

Whatever might have been be the basis for this dubious book, it must have been a question of the utmost 
importance and charm, as well as a deeply personal one. Testimony to that effect is the time in which it arose 
(in spite of which it arose), that disturbing era of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. While the thunderclap 
of the Battle of Worth was reverberating across Europe, the meditative lover of enigmas whose lot it was to 
father this book sat somewhere in a corner of the Alps, extremely reflective and perplexed (thus 
simultaneously very distressed and carefree) and wrote down his thoughts concerning the Greeks, the kernel 
of that odd and difficult book to which this later preface (or postscript) should be dedicated. A few weeks 
after that, he found himself under the walls of Metz, still not yet free of the question mark which he had set 
down beside the alleged "serenity" of the Greeks and of Greek culture, until, in that month of the deepest 
tension, as peace was being negotiated in Versailles, he finally came to peace with himself and, while slowly 
recovering from an illness he'd brought back home with him from the field, finished composing the Birth of 
Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music. 

— From music? Music and tragedy? The Greeks and the Music of Tragedy? The Greeks and the art work of 
pessimism? The most successful, most beautiful, most envied people, those with the most encouraging style 
of life — the Greeks? How can this be? Did they really need tragedy? Even more to the point, did they really 
need art? And Greek art, what is that, and how did it come about? 

One can guess from all this just where the great question mark about the worth of existence was placed. Is 
pessimism necessarily the sign of collapse, destruction, and disaster, of the exhausted and enfeebled instinct, 
as it was among the Indians, as it is now, to all appearances, among us "modern" peoples and Europeans? Is 
there a pessimism of the strong? An intellectual inclination for what in existence is hard, dreadful, angry, and 
problematic, emerging from what is healthy, from overflowing well being, from living existence to the full? Is 
there perhaps a way of suffering from the very fullness of life, a tempting courage of the keenest sight which 
demands what is terrible, like an enemy — a worthy enemy — against which it can test its power, from which it 
will learn what "to fear" means? 

What does the tragic myth mean precisely for the Greeks of the best, strongest, and bravest age? What about 
that tremendous phenomenon of the Dionysian? And what about what was born out of the Dionysian — the 
tragedy? By contrast, what are we to make of what killed tragedy — Socratic morality, dialectic, the 
satisfaction and serenity of the theoretical man? Could not this very Socratic way be a sign of collapse, 
exhaustion, sickness, and the dissolution of the anarchic instinct? And could the "Greek serenity" of later 
Greek periods be only a red sunset? Could the Epicurean will hostile to pessimism be merely the prudence of 
a suffering man? And even scientific enquiry itself, our science — indeed, what does all scientific enquiry in 
general mean considered as a symptom of life? What is the point of all that science and, even more serious, 
where did it come from? What about that? Is scientific scholarship perhaps only a fear and an excuse in the 
face of pessimism, a delicate self-defence against — the Truth? And speaking morally, something like 
cowardice and falsehood? Speaking unmorally, a clever trick? Oh, Socrates, Socrates, was that perhaps your 
secret? Oh you secretive ironist, was that perhaps your — irony? 

What I managed to seize upon at that time, something fearful and dangerous, was a problem with horns (not 
necessarily a bull exactly, but in any event a new problem). Today I would state that it was the problem of 
scholarship itself, scholarly research for the first time grasped as problematic, as dubious. But that book, in 
which my youthful courage and suspicion then spoke, what an impossible book had to grow out of a task so 
contrary to the spirit of youth! 

The Birth of Tragedy 

Created out of merely premature and really immature personal experiences, which lay close to the threshold of 
something communicable, and built on the basis of art (for the problem of scientific research cannot be 
understood on the basis of scientific enquiry) — a book perhaps for artists with analytical tendencies and a 
capacity for retrospection (that means for exceptions, a type of artist whom it is necessary to seek out and 
whom one never wants to look for), full of psychological innovations and artists' secrets, with an artist's 
metaphysics in the background, a youthful work full of the spirit of youth and the melancholy of youth, 
independent, defiantly self-sufficient as well, even where it seemed to bow down with special reverence to an 
authority — in short, a first work also in the bad sense of the word, afflicted, in spite of the antiquity of the 
problem, with every fault of youth, above all with its excessive verbiage and its storm and stress.. 

On the other hand, looking back on the success the book had (especially with the great artist to whom it 
addressed itself, as if in a conversation, that is, with Richard Wagner), the book proved itself — I mean it was 
the sort of book which at any rate was effective enough among "the best people of its time." For that reason 
the book should at this point be handled with some consideration and discretion. However, I will not totally 
hide how unpleasant the book seems to me now, how strangely after sixteen years it stands there in front of 
me, an older man, a hundred times more discriminating, but with eyes which have not grown colder in the 
slightest. The issue which that bold book dared to approach for the first time has itself become no more 
remote: to look at scientific enquiry from the perspective of the artist, but to look at art from the perspective of 
life. . . . 

Let me say again: today for me it is an impossible book. I call it something poorly written, ponderous, painful, 
with fantastic and confused imagery, here and there so saccharine it is effeminate, uneven in tempo, without 
any impulse for logical clarity, extremely self-confident and thus dispensing with evidence, even distrustful 
of the relevance of evidence, like a book for the initiated, like "Music" for those baptized in music, those who 
are bound together from the start in secret and esoteric aesthetic experiences, a secret sign recognized among 
artistic blood relations, an arrogant and rhapsodic book, which right from the start hermetically sealed itself 
off from the profane vulgarity of the "intelligentsia" even more than from the "people," but a book which, as 
its effect proved and continues to prove, must also understand enough of this issue to search out its fellow 
rhapsodists and tempt them to new secret paths and dancing grounds. 

At any rate here a strange voice spoke (curious people understood that, as did those who found it distasteful), 
the disciple of an as yet unknown God, who momentarily hid himself under the hood of a learned man, under 
the gravity and dialectical solemnity of the German man, even under the bad manners of the followers of 
Wagner. Here was a spirit with alien, even nameless, needs, a memory crammed with questions, experiences, 
secret places, beside which the name Dionysus was written like a question mark. Here spoke (so people told 
themselves suspiciously) something like a mystic and an almost maenad-like soul, which stammered with 
difficulty and arbitrarily, as if talking a foreign language, almost uncertain whether it wanted to communicate 
something or remain silent. This "new soul" should have sung, not spoken! What a shame that I did not dare 
to utter as a poet what I had to say at that time. Perhaps I might have been able to do that! Or at least as a 
philologist — even today in this area almost everything is still there for philologists to discover and dig up, 
above all the issue that there is a problem right here and that the Greeks will continue remain, as before, 
entirely unknown and unknowable as long as we have no answer to the question, "What is the Dionysian?" 

Indeed, what is the Dionysian? This book offers an answer to that question: a "knowledgeable person" speaks 
there, the initiate and disciple of his own god. Perhaps I would now speak with more care and less eloquently 
about such a difficult psychological question as the origin of tragedy among the Greeks. A basic issue is the 

The Birth of Tragedy 

relationship of the Greeks to pain, the degree of their sensitivity. Did this relationship remain constant? Or did 
it turn itself around? That question whether their constantly strong desire for beauty, feasts, festivities, and 
new cults arose out of some lack, deprivation, melancholy, or pain. If we assume that this desire for the 
beautiful and the good might be quite true — and Pericles, or, rather, Thucydides, in the great Funeral Oration 
gives us to understand that it is — where must that contradictory desire stem from, which appears earlier than 
the desire for beauty, namely, the desire for the ugly or the good strong willing of the ancient Hellenes for 
pessimism, for tragic myth, for pictures of everything fearful, angry, enigmatic, destructive, and fateful as the 
basis of existence? Where must tragedy come from? Perhaps out of desire, out of power, out of overflowing 
health, out of overwhelming fullness of life? 

And psychologically speaking, what then is the meaning of that madness out of which tragic as well as comic 
art grew, the Dionysian madness? What? Is madness perhaps not necessarily the symptom of degradation, 
collapse, cultural decadence? Is there perhaps (a question for doctors who treat madness) a neurosis associated 
with health, with the youth of a people, and with youthfulness? What is revealed in that synthesis of god and 
goat in the satyr? Out of what personal experience, what impulse, did the Greeks have to imagine the 
Dionysian enthusiast and original man as a satyr? And what about the origin of the tragic chorus? 

In those centuries when the Greek body flourished and the Greek soul bubbled over with life, perhaps there 
were endemic raptures, visions, and hallucinations which entire communities, entire cultural bodies, shared. 
What if it were the case that the Greeks, right in the midst of their rich youth, had the desire for tragedy and 
were pessimists? What if it was clearly lunacy, to use a saying from Plato, which brought the greatest 
blessings throughout Hellas? 

And, on the other hand, what if, to turn the issue around, it was clearly during the time of their dissolution and 
weakness that the Greeks became constantly more optimistic, more superficial, more hypocritical, with a lust 
for logic and rational understanding of the world, as well as "more cheerful" and "more scientific"? What's 
this? In spite of all "modern ideas" and the judgments of democratic taste, could the victory of optimism, the 
developing hegemony of reasonableness, practical and theoretical utilitarianism, as well as democracy itself 
(which occurs in the same period) perhaps be a symptom of failing power, approaching old age, physiological 
exhaustion, all these factors rather than pessimism? Was Epicurus an optimist for the very reason that he was 
suffering? We see that this book was burdened with an entire bundle of difficult questions. Let us add its most 
difficult question: What, from the point of view of living, does morality mean? 

The preface to Richard Wagner already proposed that art, and not morality, was the essential metaphysical 
human activity, and in the book itself there appears many times over the suggestive statement that the 
existence of the world is justified only as an aesthetic phenomenon. In fact, the entire book recognizes only an 
aesthetic sense and a deeper meaning under everything that happens, a "God," if you will, but certainly only a 
totally unthinking and amoral artist-God, who in creation and destruction, in good things and bad, 
dispassionately desires to become aware of his own pleasures and power, a God who, as he creates worlds, 
rids himself of the strain of fullness and superfluity, from the suffering of pressing internal contradictions. The 
world is at every moment the attained manifestation of God, as the eternally changing, eternally new vision of 
the person who suffers most, who is the most rent with contradictions, the one with the richest sense of 
protest, who knows how to save himself only in illusion. 

People may call this entire artistic metaphysic arbitrary, pointless, and fantastic, but the essential point about it 
is that it already betrays a spirit which will at some point establish itself on that dangerous ground and make a 
stand against the moralistic interpretation and moral meaningfulness of existence. Here is announced, perhaps 
for the first time, a pessimism "beyond good and evil." Here comes that "perversity in belief in word and 
formula against which Schopenhauer never grew tired of hurling his angriest curses and thunderstones in 

The Birth of Tragedy 

advance, a philosophy which dared to place morality itself in the world of phenomena and so to subsume it, 
not under the "visions" (in the sense of some idealistic end point) but under "illusions," as an appearance, 
delusion, fallacy, interpretation, something made up, a work of art. 

Perhaps we can best gauge the depth of this tendency hostile to morality from the careful and hostile silence 
with which Christianity is treated in the entire book, Christianity as the most excessive and thorough figuring 
out of a moralistic theme which humanity has ever had available to listen to. To tell the truth, there is nothing 
which stands more in opposition to the purely aesthetic interpretation and justification of the world, as it was 
set out in this book, than Christian teaching, which is and will remain merely moralistic and which, with its 
absolute moral standards (for example, with its truthfulness of God), relegates art to the realm of lies — in 
other words, which denies art, condemns it, and passes sentence on it. 

Behind such a way of thinking and evaluating, which must be hostile to art, so long as it is in any way 
consistent, I always perceived also a hostility to life, the wrathful, vengeful aversion to life itself. For all life 
rests on appearance, art, illusion, optics, the need for perspective and for error. Christianity was from the start 
essentially and thoroughly disgust and weariness with life, which only dressed itself up, only hid itself in, only 
decorated itself with the belief in an "other" or "better" life. The hatred of the "world," the curse against the 
emotions, the fear of beauty and sensuality, a world beyond created so that the world on this side might be 
more easily slandered, at bottom a longing for nothingness, for extinction, for rest, until the "Sabbath of all 
Sabbaths" — all that, as well as the absolute desire of Christianity to value only moral worth, has always 
seemed to me the most dangerous and most eerie form of all possible manifestations of a "Will to 
Destruction," at least a sign of the deepest illness, weariness, bad temper, exhaustion, and impoverishment in 

For in the eyes of morality (and particularly Christian morality, that is, absolute morality) life must be seen as 
constantly and inevitably wicked, because life is something essentially amoral. Hence, pressed down under 
this weight of contempt and eternal No's, life must finally be experienced as something not worth desiring, as 
something worthless. And what about morality itself? Isn't morality a "desire for the denial of life," a secret 
instinct for destruction, a principle of decay, diminution, and slander, a beginning of the end, and thus, the 
greatest of all dangers?. 

And so, my instinct at that time turned itself against morality in this questionable book, as an instinctual 
affirmation of life, and a fundamentally different doctrine, a totally opposite way of evaluating life, was 
invented, something purely artistic and anti-Christian. What should it be called? As a philologist and man of 
words, I baptized it, taking some liberties (for who knew the correct name for the Antichrist?), after the name 
of a Greek god: I called it the Dionysian. 

Do people understand the nature of the task I dared to stir up with this book? . . . How much I now regret the 
fact that at the time I didn't have the courage (or the presumptuousness?) to consider allowing myself a 
personal language appropriate to such an odd point of view and such a daring exploit — that I sought 
laboriously to express strange and new evaluations with formulas from Schopenhauer and Kant — something 
which basically went quite against the spirit of Kant and Schopenhauer, as well as against their tastes! 

What then did Schopenhauer think about tragedy? He says, "What gives all tragedies their characteristic drive 
for elevation is the working out of the recognition that the world and life cannot provide any just satisfactions, 
and thus our devotion to it is not worthwhile; the tragic spirit lives on in that insight, and it leads from there to 
resignation" (The World as Will and Idea, 11,495). Oh, how differently Dionysus speaks to me! Oh, how far 
from me then was just this entire doctrine of resignation! — 

The Birth of Tragedy 

But there is something much worse about my book, something which I regret even more than to have 
obscured and spoiled my Dionysian premonitions with formulas from Schopenhauer: namely, that I generally 
ruined for myself the magnificent problem of the Greeks, as it arose in me, by mixing it up with the most 
modern issues! I regret that I tied myself to hopes where there was nothing to hope for, where everything 
indicated all too clearly an end point! I regret that, on the basis of the most recent German music, I began to 
tell stories of the "German character," just as if that character might be about to discover itself, to find itself 
again. And all that at a time when the German spirit (which not so long before had the desire to rule Europe 
and the power to assume leadership of Europe) was, as its last will and testament, abdicating and, beneath the 
ostentatious pretext of founding an empire, making the transition to a negotiated moderation, to democracy 
and "modern ideas" ! 

As a matter of fact, in the intervening years I have learned to think of that "German character" without any 
hope and without mercy — similarly with German music, which is Romantic through and through and the most 
un-Greek of all possible art forms, and besides that, the worst sort of narcotic, doubly dangerous among a 
people who love drink and honour lack of clarity as a virtue, because that has the dual character of a drug 
which simultaneously intoxicates and befuddles the mind. Of course, set apart from all the rash hopes and the 
defective practical applications to present times with which I then ruined my first book, the great Dionysian 
question mark remains still standing, as it is set out there (also in relation to music): How should a music be 
created which is no longer Romantic in origin (like the German) but Dionysian? 

But, my dear sir, what in the earth is Romantic if your book is not? Can the deep hatred against modernism, 
reality, and modern ideas go any further than it does in your artists' metaphysics, which would sooner believe 
in nothingness or the devil than in the here and now? Does not a fundamental bass note of anger and desire for 
destruction rumble underneath all your contrapuntal vocal art and seductive sounds, a raging determination in 
opposition to everything contemporary, a desire which is something not too distant from practical nihilism 
and which seems to say "I'd rather that nothingness were the truth than that you were right, than that your 
truth was justified!" 

Listen to yourself, my pessimistic gentleman and worshipper of art, listen with open ears to a single selected 
passage from your book, to that not ineloquent passage about the dragon killer, who may sound like an 
awkward pied piper to those with young ears and hearts. What? Is your book not a true and justified Romantic 
declaration of 1830, under the mask of the pessimism of 1850, behind which is already playing the prelude to 
the usual Romantic finale — break, collapse, return, and prostration before an ancient belief, before the old 
gods. . . . What? Isn't your book of pessimism itself an anti-Greek and Romantic piece, even something "as 
intoxicating as it is befuddling," in any event, a narcotic, even a piece of music, German music? Listen to the 

"Let's picture for ourselves a generation growing up with this fearlessness in its gaze, with this heroic push 
into what is monstrous; let's picture for ourselves the bold stride of these dragon slayers, the proud audacity 
with which they turn their backs on all the doctrines of weakness associated with optimism, so that they live 
with resolution, fully and completely. Would it not be necessary for the tragic man of this culture, having 
trained himself for what is serious and frightening, to desire a new art, an art of metaphysical consolation, 
tragedy as his own personal Helen of Troy, and to have to cry out with Faust: 

And should I not, through my power to yearn, 
Drag into life that most extraordinary form? 

"Would it not be necessary?" . . . No, three times no! you young Romantics: it should not be necessary! But it 
is very likely that things will end up — that you will end up — being consoled, as is written, in spite of all the 

The Birth of Tragedy 

self-training for what is serious and frightening, "metaphysically consoled," as Romantics tend to finish up, 
as Christians. No! You should for the time being learn the art of consolation in this life: you should learn to 
laugh, my young friends, even if you wish to remain thoroughly pessimistic. From that, as laughing people, 
some day or other perhaps you will ship all that metaphysical consolation to the devil — and then away with 
metaphysics ! Or, to speak the language of that Dionysian fiend called Zarathustra: 

"Lift up your hearts, my brothers, high, higher! And for my sake don't forget your legs! Raise up your legs, 
you fine dancers, and better yet, stand on your heads!" 

"This crown of the man who laughs, this crown wreathed with roses — I have placed this crown on myself. I 
speak out my holy laughter to myself. Today I found no one else strong enough for that." 

"Zarathustra the dancer, Zarathustra the light hearted, who beckons with his wings, a man ready to fly, hailing 
all birds, prepared and ready, a careless and blessed man." 

"Zarathustra the truth-teller, Zarathustra the true laugher, not an impatient man, not a man of absolutes, 
someone who loves jumps and leaps to the side — I placed the crown on myself!" 

"This crown of the laughing man, this crown of rose wreaths: my brothers I throw this crown to you! Laughter 
I declare sacred: you higher men, for my sake learn to laugh!" 

August 1886 

Preface to Richard Wagner 

In order to keep far away from me all possible disturbances, agitation, and misunderstandings which the 
assembly of ideas in this piece of writing will bring about on account of the peculiar character of our aesthetic 
public, and also to be capable of writing a word of introduction to the book with the same contemplative joy 
which marks every page, the crystallization of good inspirational hours, I am imagining the look with which 
you, my esteemed friend, will receive this work — how you, perhaps after an evening stroll in the winter snow, 
look at the unbound Prometheus on the title page, read my name, and are immediately convinced that, no 
matter what this text consists of, the writer has something serious and urgent to say, and that, in addition, in 
everything which he composed, he was conversing with you as with someone present and could only write 
down what was appropriate to such a presence. 

In this connection, you will remember that I gathered these ideas together at the same time that your 
marvelous commemorative volume on Beethoven appeared, that is, during the shock and grandeur of the war 
which had just broken out . Nevertheless, people might think that this collection of ideas has an aesthetic 
voluptuousness opposed to patriotic excitement, a cheerful game different from brave seriousness. Such 
people would be quite wrong. By actually reading the work, they should rather be astonished to recognize 
clearly the serious German problem which we have to deal with, the problem which we really placed right in 
the middle of German hopes as its vortex and turning point. 

However, it will perhaps be generally offensive for these same people to see an aesthetic problem taken so 
seriously, if they are in a position to see art as nothing more than a merry diversion, as an easily dispensable 
bell-ringing summoning us to the "Seriousness of Existence," as if no one knew what such as opposing stance 
as this has to do with such "Seriousness of Existence." 

For these serious readers, let this serve as a caution: I am convinced that art is the highest task and the 
essential metaphysical capability of this life, in the sense of that man to whom I here, as to my inspiring 
pioneer on this path, have dedicated this book. 

Preface to Richard Wagner 7 

The Birth of Tragedy 
Basel, December 1871 

We will have achieved much for the study of aesthetics when we come, not merely to a logical understanding, 
but also to the immediately certain apprehension of the fact that the further development of art is bound up 
with the duality of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, just as reproduction depends upon the duality of the 
sexes, their continuing strife and only periodically occurring reconciliation. We take these names from the 
Greeks who gave a clear voice to the profound secret teachings of their contemplative art, not in ideas, but in 
the powerfully clear forms of their divine world. 

With those two gods of art, Apollo and Dionysus, we link our recognition that in the Greek world there exists 
a huge contrast, in origins and purposes, between visual (plastic) arts, the Apollonian, and the non-visual art 
of music, the Dionysian. Both very different drives go hand in hand, for the most part in open conflict with 
each other and simultaneously provoking each other all the time to new and more powerful offspring, in order 
to perpetuate for themselves the contest of opposites which the common word "Art" only seems to bridge, 
until they finally, through a marvelous metaphysical act, seem to pair up with each other and, as this pair, 
produce Attic tragedy, just as much a Dionysian as an Apollonian work of art. 

In order to get closer to these two instinctual drives, let us think of them next as the separate artistic worlds of 
dreams and of intoxication, physiological phenomena between which we can observe an opposition 
corresponding to the one between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. 

According to the ideas of Lucretius, the marvelous divine shapes first appeared to the mind of man in a dream. 
It was in a dream that the great artist saw the delightful anatomy of superhuman existence, and the Hellenic 
poet, questioned about the secrets of poetic creativity, would have recalled his dreams and given an 
explanation exactly similar to the one Hans Sachs provides in Die Meister singer. 

My friend, that is precisely the poet's work — 

To figure out his dreams, mark them down. 

Believe me, the truest illusion of mankind 

Is revealed to him in dreams: 

All poetic art and poeticizing 

Is nothing but interpreting true dreams. 

The beautiful appearance of the world of dreams, in whose creation each man is a complete artist, is the 
condition of all plastic art, indeed, as we shall see, an important half of poetry. We enjoy the form with an 
immediate understanding, all shapes speak to us, nothing is indifferent and unnecessary. 

For all the very intense life of these dream realities, we nevertheless have the thoroughly disagreeable sense of 
their illusory quality. At least that is my experience. For their frequency, even normality, I can point to many 
witnesses and the utterances of poets. Even the philosophical man has the presentiment that this reality in 
which we live and have our being is an illusion, that under it lies hidden a second quite different reality. And 
Schopenhauer specifically designates as the trademark of philosophical talent the ability to recognize at 
certain times that human beings and all things are mere phantoms or dream pictures . 

Now, just as the philosopher behaves in relation to the reality of existence, so the artistically excitable man 
behaves in relation to the reality of dreams. He looks at them precisely and with pleasure, for from these 
pictures he fashions his interpretation of life; from these events he rehearses his life. This is not merely a case 
of agreeable and friendly images which he experiences with a complete understanding. They also include 
what is serious, cloudy, sad, dark, sudden scruples, teasing accidents, nervous expectations, in short, the entire 

1 8 

The Birth of Tragedy 

"divine comedy" of life, including the Inferno — all this moves past him, not just like a shadow play, for he 
lives and suffers in the midst of these scenes, yet not without that fleeting sensation of illusion. And perhaps 
several people remember, like me, amid the dangers and terrors of a dream, successfully cheering themselves 
up by shouting: "It is a dream! I want to dream it some more!" I have also heard accounts of some people who 
had the ability to set out the causal connection of one and the same dream over three or more consecutive 
nights. These facts are clear evidence showing that our innermost beings, the secret underground in all of us, 
experiences its dreams with deep enjoyment, as a delightful necessity. 

The Greeks expressed this joyful necessity of the dream experience in their god Apollo, who, as god of all the 
plastic arts, is at the same time the god of prophecy. In accordance with the root meaning of his association 
with brightness, he is the god of light. He also rules over the beautiful appearance of the inner fantasy world. 
The higher truth, the perfection of this condition in contrast to the sketchy understanding of our daily reality, 
as well as the deep consciousness of a healing and helping nature in sleep and dreaming, is the symbolic 
analogy to the capacity to prophesy the truth, as well as to art in general, through which life is made possible 
and worth living. But also that delicate line which the dream image may not cross so as to work its effect 
pathologically (otherwise the illusion would deceive us as crude reality) — that line must not be absent from 
the image of Apollo, that boundary of moderation, that freedom from more ecstatic excitement, that fully calm 
wisdom of the god of images. His eye must be sun-like, in keeping with his origin. Even when he is angry 
and gazes with displeasure, the consecration of the beautiful illusion rests on him. 

And so one may verify (in an eccentric way) what Schopenhauer says of the man trapped in the veil of Maja: 
"As on the stormy sea which extends without limit on all sides, howling mountainous waves rise up and sink 
and a sailor sits in a row boat, trusting the weak craft, so, in the midst of a world of torments, the solitary man 
sits peacefully, supported by and trusting in the principium individuationis [the principle of individuality]" 
{World as Will and Idea, Vol. I, p. 416). Yes, we could say of Apollo that the imperturbable trust in that 
principle and the calm sitting still of the man conscious of it attained its loftiest expression in him, and we 
may even designate Apollo himself as the marvelous divine image of the principium individuationis, from 
whose gestures and gaze all the joy and wisdom of illusion, together with its beauty, speak to us. 

In the same place Schopenhauer also described for us the monstrous horror which seizes a man when he 
suddenly doubts his ways of comprehending illusion, when the sense of a foundation, in any one of its forms, 
appears to suffer a breakdown. If we add to this horror the ecstatic rapture, which rises up out of the same 
collapse of the principium individuationis from the innermost depths of human beings, yes, from the 
innermost depths of nature, then we have a glimpse into the essence of the Dionysian, which is presented to us 
most closely through the analogy to intoxication. 

Either through the influence of narcotic drink, of which all primitive men and peoples speak, or through the 
powerful coming on of spring, which drives joyfully through all of nature, that Dionysian excitement arises. 
As its power increases, the subjective fades into complete forgetfulness of self. In the German Middle Ages 
under the same power of Dionysus constantly growing hordes waltzed from place to place, singing and 
dancing. In that St. John's and St. Vitus's dancing we recognize the Bacchic chorus of the Greeks once again, 
and its precursors in Asia Minor, right back to Babylon and the orgiastic Sacaea [a riotous Babylonian 

There are men who, from a lack of experience or out of apathy, turn mockingly away from such phenomena 
as from a "sickness of the people," with a sense of their own health and filled with pity. These poor people 
naturally do not have any sense of how deathly and ghost-like this very "Health" of theirs sounds, when the 
glowing life of the Dionysian throng roars past them. Under the magic of the Dionysian, not only does the 
bond between man and man lock itself in place once more, but also nature itself, now matter how alienated, 
hostile, or subjugated, rejoices again in her festival of reconciliation with her prodigal son, man. The earth 
freely offers up her gifts, and the beasts of prey from the rocks and the desert approach in peace. The wagon 

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The Birth of Tragedy 
of Dionysus is covered with flowers and wreaths. Under his yolk stride panthers and tigers. 

If someone were to transform Beethoven's Ode to Joy into a painting and not restrain his imagination when 
millions of people sink dramatically into the dust, then we could come close to the Dionysian. Now is the 
slave a free man, now all the stiff, hostile barriers break apart, those things which necessity and arbitrary 
power or "saucy fashion" have established between men. Now, with the gospel of world harmony, every man 
feels himself not only united with his neighbour, reconciled and fused together, but also as if the veil of Maja 
has been ripped apart, with only scraps fluttering around before the mysterious original unity. Singing and 
dancing, man expresses himself as a member of a higher unity. He has forgotten how to walk and talk and is 
on the verge of flying up into the air as he dances. The enchantment speaks out in his gestures. Just as the 
animals speak and the earth gives milk and honey, so now something supernatural echoes out of him. He feels 
himself a god. He now moves in a lofty ecstasy, as he saw the gods move in his dream. The man is no longer 
an artist. He has become a work of art. The artistic power of all of nature, the rhapsodic satisfaction of the 
primordial unity, reveals itself here in the intoxicated performance. The finest clay, the most expensive 
marble — man — is here worked and chiseled, and the cry of the Eleusianian mysteries rings out to the chisel 
blows of the Dionysian world artist: "Do you fall down, you millions? World, do you have a sense of your 

Up to this point, we have considered the Apollonian and its opposite, the Dionysian, as artistic forces which 
break forth out of nature itself, without the mediation of the human artist and in which the human artistic drive 
is for the time being satisfied directly — on the one hand as a world of dream images, whose perfection has no 
connection with an individual's high level of intellect or artistic education, on the other hand, as the 
intoxicating reality, which once again does not respect the individual, but even seeks to abolish the individual 
and to restore him through a mystic feeling of collective unity. In comparison to these unmediated artistic 
states of nature, every artist is an "Imitator," and, in fact, an artist either of Apollonian dream or Dionysian 
intoxication or, finally, as in Greek tragedy, for example, simultaneously an artist of intoxication and dreams. 
As the last, it is possible for us to imagine how he sinks down in the Dionysian drunkenness and mystical 
obliteration of the self, alone and apart from the rapturous throng, and how through the Apollonian effects of 
dream his own state now reveals itself to him, that is, his unity with the innermost basis of the world, in a 
metaphorical dream picture. 

In accordance with these general assumptions and comparisons, let us now approach the Greeks, in order to 
recognize to what degree and to what heights the natural artistic drives had developed in them and how we are 
in a position to understand more deeply and assess the relationship of the Greek artist to his primordial images 
or, to use Aristotle's expression, his "imitation of nature." 

In spite of all their literature on dreams and numerous dream anecdotes, we can speak of the dreams of the 
Greeks only hypothetically, although with fair certainty. Given the incredibly clear and accurate plastic 
capability of their eyes, along with their intelligent and open love of colour, one cannot go wrong in assuming 
that (to the shame all those born later) their dreams also had a logical causality of lines and circumferences, 
colours, and groupings, a sequence of scenes rather like their best bas reliefs, whose perfection would justify 
us, if such a comparison were possible, to describe the dreaming Greek man as a Homer and Homer as a 
dreaming Greek man, in a deeper sense than when modern man, with respect to his dreams, has the temerity to 
compare himself with Shakespeare 

On the other hand, we do not need to speak merely hypothetically when we have to expose the immense gap 
which separates the Dionysian Greeks from the Dionysian barbarians. In all quarters of the old world (setting 
aside here the newer worlds), from Rome to Babylon, we can confirm the existence of Dionysian celebrations, 
of a type, at best, related to the Greeks in much the same way as the bearded satyr whose name and 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

characteristics are taken from the goat is related to Dionysus himself. Almost everywhere, the central point of 
these celebrations consisted of an exuberant sexual promiscuity, whose waves flooded over all established 
family practices and traditional laws. The wildest bestiality of nature was here unleashed, creating an 
abominable mixture of lust and cruelty, which has always seemed to me the real witches' potion. 

From the feverish excitement of these festivals, knowledge of which reached the Greeks from all directions, 
by land and sea, they were apparently for a long time completely secure and protected through the figure of 
Apollo, drawn up in all his pride. Apollo could counter by holding up the head of Medusa in the face of the 
unequalled power of this crude and grotesque Dionysian force. Doric art has immortalized this majestic 
bearing of Apollo as he stands in opposition. This opposition became more dubious and even impossible as 
similar impulses gradually broke out from the deepest roots of Hellenic culture itself. Now the effect of the 
Delphic god, in a timely process of reconciliation, limited itself to taking the destructive weapon out of the 
hand of his powerful opponent. 

This reconciliation is the most important moment in the history of Greek culture. Wherever we look the 
revolutionary effects of this experience manifest themselves. It was the reconciliation of two opponents, who 
from now on observed their differences with a sharp demarcation of the border line between them and with 
occasional gifts send to honour each other. Basically the gap was not bridged over. However, if we see how, 
under the pressure of this peace agreement, the Dionysian power revealed itself, then we now understand the 
meaning of the festivals of world redemption and days of transfiguration in the Dionysian orgies of the 
Greeks, in comparison with the Babylonian Sacaea, which turned human beings back into tigers and apes. 

In these Greek festivals, for the first time nature achieves its artistic jubilee. In them, for the first time, the 
tearing apart of the principii individuationis [the individualizing principle] becomes an artistic phenomenon. 
Here that dreadful witches' potion of lust and cruelty was without power. The strange mixture and ambiguity 
in the emotions of the Dionysian celebrant remind him, as healing potions remind him of deadly poison, of 
that sense that pain awakens joy, that the jubilation in his chest rips out cries of agony. From the most sublime 
joy echoes the cry of horror or the longingly plaintive lament over an irreparable loss. In those Greek festivals 
it was as if a sentimental feature of nature is breaking out, as if nature has to sigh over her dismemberment 
into separate individuals. 

The language of song and poetry of such a doubly defined celebrant was for the Homeric Greek world 
something new and unheard of. Dionysian music especially awoke in that world fear and terror. If music was 
apparently already known as an Apollonian art, this music, strictly speaking, was a rhythmic pattern like the 
sound of waves, whose artistic power had developed for presenting Apollonian states of mind. The music of 
Apollo was Doric architecture expressed in sound, but only in intimate tones, characteristic of the cithara [a 
traditional stringed instrument}. The un- Apollonian character of Dionysian music keeps such an element of 
gentle caution at a distance, and with that turns music generally into emotionally disturbing tonal power, a 
unified stream of melody, and the totally incomparable world of harmony. 

In the Dionysian dithyramb man is aroused to the highest intensity of all his symbolic capabilities. Something 
never felt before forces itself into expression — the destruction of the veil of Maja, the sense of oneness as the 
presiding genius of form, of nature itself. Now the essence of nature must express itself symbolically; a new 
world of symbols is necessary, the entire symbolism of the body, not just the symbolism of mouth, face, and 
words, but the full gestures of the dance — all the limbs moving to the rhythm. And then the other symbolic 
powers grow, those of music, rhythm, dynamics, and harmony — all with sudden spontaneity. 

To grasp this total unleashing of all symbolic powers, man must already have attained that high level of 
freedom from the self which seeks to express itself symbolically in those forces. Because of this, the 
dithyrambic servant of Dionysus will understand only someone like himself. With what astonishment must the 
Apollonian Greek have gazed at him! With an amazement which was all the greater as he sensed with horror 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

that all this may not be really foreign to him, that even his Apollonian consciousness was covering the 
Dionysian world in front of him, like a veil. 

In order to grasp this point, we must dismantle that artistic structure of Apollonian culture, as it were, stone by 
stone, until we see the foundations on which it is built. Here we become aware for the first time of the 
marvelous Olympian divine forms, which stand on the pediments of this building and whose actions decorate 
its friezes all around in illuminating bas relief. If Apollo also stands among them, as a single god next to the 
others and without any claim to the pre-eminent position, we should not on that account let ourselves be 
deceived. The same instinct which made Apollo perceptible to the senses gave birth to the entire Olympian 
world in general. In this sense, we must value Apollo as the father of them all. What was the immense need 
out of which such an illuminating group of Olympic beings arose? 

Anyone who steps up to these Olympians with another religion in his heart and seeks from them ethical 
loftiness, even sanctity or spiritual longing for the non-physical, for loving gazes filled with pity, must soon 
enough despondently turn his back on them in disappointment. For here there is no reminder of asceticism, 
spirituality, and duty. Here speaks to us only a full, indeed a triumphant, existence, in which everything 
present is worshipped, no matter whether it is good or evil. And thus the onlooker may well stand in real 
consternation in front of this fantastic excess of life, to ask himself with what magical drink in their bodies 
these high-spirited men could have enjoyed life so that wherever they look, Helen laughs back at them, that 
ideal image of their own existence, "hovering in sweet sensuousness.". 

However, we must summon back this onlooker who has already turned around to go away. "Don't leave them. 
First listen to what Greek folk wisdom expresses about this very life which spreads out before you here with 
such inexplicable serenity. There is an old saying to the effect that King Midas for a long time hunted the wise 
Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, in the forests, without catching him. When Silenus finally fell into the 
king's hands, the king asked what was the best thing of all for men, the very finest. The daemon remained 
silent, motionless and inflexible, until, compelled by the king, he finally broke out into shrill laughter and 
said, 'Suffering creature, born for a day, child of accident and toil, why are you forcing me to say what is the 
most unpleasant thing for you to hear? The very best thing for you is totally unreachable: not to have been 
born, not to exist, to be nothing. The second best thing for you, however, is this: to die soon.'" 

What is the relationship between the Olympian world of the gods and this popular wisdom? It is like the 
relationship of the entrancing vision of the tortured martyr to his pain. 

Now, as it were, the Olympic magic mountain reveals itself to us and shows us its roots. The Greek knew and 
felt the terror and horror of existence. In order to live at all, he must have placed in front of him the gleaming 
Olympians, born in his dreams. That immense distrust of the titanic forces of nature, that Moira [Fate] 
enthroned mercilessly above all knowledge, that vulture that devoured Prometheus, friend of man, that fatal 
lot drawn by wise Oedipus, that family curse on the House of Atreus, that Orestes compelled to kill his 
mother, in short, that entire philosophy of the woodland god, together with its mythical illustrations, from 
which the melancholy Etruscans died off, all that was overcome time after time by the Greeks (or at least 
hidden and removed from view) through the artistic middle world of the Olympians 

In order to be able to live, the Greeks must have created these gods out of the deepest necessity. We can 
readily imagine the sequential development of these gods: through that instinctive Apollonian drive for beauty 
there developed by slow degrees out of the primordial titanic divine order of terror the Olympian divine order 
of joy, just as roses break forth out of thorny bushes. How else could a people so emotionally sensitive, so 
spontaneously desiring, so singularly capable of suffering have endured their existence, unless the same 
qualities manifested themselves in their gods, around whom flowed a higher glory. The same instinctual drive 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

which summons art into life as the seductive replenishment for further living and the completion of existence 
also gave rise to the Olympian world, by which the Hellenic "Will" held before itself a transfiguring mirror. 

In this way the gods justify the lives of men because they themselves live it — that is the only satisfactory 
theodicy ! Existence under the bright sunshine of such gods is experienced as worth striving for in itself, and 
the essential pain of the Homeric men consists in the separation from that sunlight, above all in the fact that 
such separation is close at hand., so that we could say of them, with a reversal of the wisdom of Silenus, "the 
very worst thing for them was to die soon, the second worst was to die at all." When the laments resound now, 
they tell of short-lived Achilles, of the changes in the race of men, transformed like leaves, of the destruction 
of the heroic age. It is not unworthy of the greatest heroes to long to live on, even as a day labourer. In the 
Apollonian stage, the "Will" so spontaneously demands to live on, the Homeric man fills himself with that 
feeling so much, that even his lament becomes a song of praise. 

At this point we must point out that this harmony, this union of man with nature (something looked on 
enviously by more recent ages), for which Schiller coined the artistic slogan "naive," is in no way such a 
simple, inevitable, and, as it were, unavoidable condition (like a human paradise) which we necessarily run 
into at the door of every culture. Such a belief is possible only in an age which seeks to believe that 
Rousseau's Emile is an artist and imagines it has found in Homer an artist like Emile raised in the bosom of 
nature. Wherever we encounter the "naive" in art, we have to recognize the highest effect of Apollonian 
culture, something which always must come into existence to overthrow the kingdom of the Titans, to kill 
monsters, and through powerfully deluding images and joyful illusions to emerge victorious over the horrific 
depths of what we observe in the world and the most sensitive capacity for suffering. But how seldom does 
the naive, that sense of being completely swallowed up in the beauty of appearance, succeed. For that reason, 
how inexpressibly noble is Homer, who, as a single person, was related to Apollonian popular culture as the 
single dream artist to his people's capacity to dream and to nature in general. 

Homeric "naivete" is only to be understood as the complete victory of the Apollonian illusion. It is the sort of 
illusion which nature uses so frequently in order to attain her objectives. The true goal is concealed by a 
deluding image. We stretch our hands out toward this image, and nature reaches its goal through the 
deception. With the Greeks it was a case of the "Will" wishing to gaze upon itself through the transforming 
power of genius and the world of art. In order to celebrate itself, its creatures had to sense that they were 
worthy of being glorified — they must see themselves again in a higher sphere, without this complete world of 
contemplation affecting them as an imperative or as a reproach. This is the sphere of beauty, in which they 
saw their mirror images, the Olympians. With this mirror of beauty, the Hellenic "Will" fought against the 
talent for suffering and the wisdom of suffering which is bound up with artistic talent, and as a memorial of its 
victory Homer, the naive artist, stands before us. 

Using the analogy of a dream we can learn something about this naive artist. If we recall how the dreamer, in 
the middle of his illusory dream world, calls out to himself, without destroying that world, "It is a dream. I 
want to continue dreaming," and if we can infer, on the one hand, a deep inner delight at the contemplation of 
dreams, and, on the other, that he must have completely forgotten the pressing problems of his daily life, in 
order to be capable of dreaming at all with such an inner contemplative joy, then we may interpret all these 
phenomena, with the guidance of Apollo, the interpreter of dreams, in something like the manner which 
follows below. 

To be sure, with respect to both halves of life, the waking and the dreaming states, the first one strikes us as 
disproportionately better, more important, more valuable, more worth living — the only way to live. 
Nevertheless I can assert (something of a paradox to all appearances) on the basis of the secret foundation of 
our essence, whose manifestation we are, precisely the opposite evaluation of dreams. For the more I become 


The Birth of Tragedy 

aware of those all-powerful natural artistic impulses and the fervent yearning for illusion contained in them, 
the desire to be redeemed through appearances, the more I feel myself forced to the metaphysical assumption 
that the true basis of being , the ever suffering and entirely contradictory primordial oneness, constantly uses 
the delightful vision, the joyful illusion, to redeem itself. We are compelled to experience this illusion, totally 
caught up in it and constituted by it, as the truly non-existent, that is, as a continuing development in time, 
space, and causality, in other words, as an empirical reality. But if we momentarily look away from our own 
"reality, " if we grasp our empirical existence and the world in general as an idea of the primordial oneness 
created in each moment, then we must consider our dreams as illusions of illusions, as well as an even higher 
fulfillment of the primordial hunger for illusion. For the same reasons, the innermost core of nature takes an 
indescribable joy in the naive artist and naive works of art, which is, in the same way, only "an illusion of an 

Rafael, himself one of those immortal "naive" artists, in one of his allegorical paintings, has presented that 
issue of transforming an illusion into an illusion, the fundamental process of the naive artist and Apollonian 
culture as well. In his Transfiguration the bottom half shows us, in the possessed boy, the despairing porters, 
and the helplessly frightened disciples, the mirror image of the eternal primordial pain, the sole basis of the 
world. The "illusion" here is the reflection of the eternal contradiction, the father of things. Now, out of this 
illusion there rises up, like an ambrosial fragrance, a new world of illusion, like a vision, invisible to those 
trapped in the first scene, something illuminating and hovering in the purest painless ecstasy, a shining vision 
to contemplate with eyes wide open. 

Here we have before our very eyes in the highest symbolism of art that Apollonian world of beauty and its 
foundation, the frightening wisdom of Silenus, and we understand, through intuition, the reciprocal necessity 
for both of them. But Apollo confronts us once again as the divine manifestation of the principii 
individuationis [the individualizing principle], in which the eternally attained goal of the primordial oneness, 
its redemption through illusion, comes into being. He shows us, with his awe-inspiring gestures, how the 
entire world of torment is necessary, so that through it the individual is pushed to create the redemptive vision 
and then, absorbed in contemplation of that vision, sits quietly in his rowboat, tossing around in the middle of 
the ocean. 

This deification of the principle of individualization, if it is thought of in general as commanding and 
proscriptive, understands only one law, that of the individual, that is, observing the limits of individualization, 
moderation in the Greek sense. Apollo, as the ethical divinity, demands moderation from his followers and 
self-knowledge, so that they can observe moderation.. And so alongside the aesthetic necessity of beauty run 
the demands "Know thyself and "Nothing in excess." Arrogance and excess are considered the essentially 
hostile daemons of the non- Apollonian sphere, therefore characteristic of the pre- Apollonian period, the age 
of the Titans, and of the world beyond the Apollonian, that is, the barbarian world. Because of his Titanic love 
for mankind Prometheus had to be ripped apart by the vulture. For the sake of his excessive wisdom, which 
solved the riddle of the sphinx, Oedipus had to be overthrown in a bewildering whirlpool of evil. That is how 
the Delphic god interpreted the Greek past. 

To the Apollonian Greeks the effect aroused by the Dionysian also seemed "Titanic" and "barbaric." But they 
could not, with that response, conceal that they themselves were, nonetheless, internally related and similar to 
those deposed Titans and heroes. Indeed, they must have felt even more that their entire existence, with all its 
beauty and moderation, rested on some hidden underground of suffering and knowledge which was 
reawakened through that very Dionysian. And look! Apollo could not live without Dionysus! The "Titanic" 
and the "barbaric" were, in the end, every bit as necessary as the Apollonian. 

And now let us imagine how in this world, constructed on illusion and moderation and restrained by art, the 
ecstatic sound of the Dionysian celebration rang out all around with a constantly tempting magic, how in such 
celebrations the entire excess of nature sang out loudly in joy, suffering, and knowledge, even in the most 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

piercing scream. Let's imagine what the psalm-chanting Apollonian artist, with his ghostly harp music could 
offer in comparison to this daemonic popular singing. The muses of the art of "illusion" withered away in the 
face of an art which spoke truth in its intoxicated state: the wisdom of Silenus cried out "Woe! Woe!" against 
the serene Olympian. Individualism, with all its limits and moderation, was destroyed in the self-forgetfulness 
of the Dionysian condition and forgot its Apollonian principles. 

Excess revealed itself as the truth. The contradictory ecstasy born from of pain spoke of itself right out of the 
heart of nature. And so the Apollonian was canceled and destroyed, above all where the Dionysian penetrated. 
But it is just as certain that in those places where the first onslaught was halted, the high reputation and the 
majesty of the Delphic god manifested itself more firmly and threateningly than ever. For I can explain the 
Doric state and Doric art only as a constant Apollonian war camp. Only through an uninterrupted opposition 
to the Titanic-barbaric essence of the Dionysian could such a defiantly aloof art, protected on all sides with 
fortifications, such a harsh upbringing as a preparation for war, and such a cruel and ruthless basis for 
government endure. 

Up to this point I have set out at some length what I observed at the opening of this essay: how the Dionysian 
and the Apollonian ruled the Hellenic world, in a constant sequence of births, one after the other, mutually 
intensifying each other, how, out of the "first" ages, with their battles of the Titans and their harsh popular 
philosophy, the Homeric world developed under the rule of the Apollonian drive for beauty, how this "naive" 
magnificence is swallowed up once more by the breaking out of the Dionysian torrent, and how in opposition 
to this new power the Apollonian erected the rigid majesty of Doric art and the Doric world view. 

If in this way the ancient history of the Greeks, in the struggle of these two hostile principles, falls into four 
major artistic periods, we are now impelled to ask more about the final stage of this development and striving, 
in case we should consider the last attained period, the one of Doric art, as the summit and intention of these 
artistic impulses. Here, the lofty and highly much praised artistic achievement of Attic tragedy and the 
dramatic dithyramb presents itself before our eyes, as the common goal of both artistic drives, whose secret 
marriage partnership, after a long antecedent struggle, celebrated itself with such a child, simultaneously 
Antigone and Cassandra. 

We are now approaching the essential goal of our undertaking, which aims at a knowledge of the 
Dionysian- Apollonian genius and its works of art, or at least an intuitive understanding of its mysterious 
unity. Here now we raise the question of where that new seed first appears in the Hellenic world, the seed 
which later develops into tragedy and the dramatic dithyramb. On this question classical antiquity itself gives 
us illustrative evidence when it places Homer and Archilochus next to each other as the originators and 
torch-bearers of Greek poetry in paintings, cameos, and so on, in full confidence that only these two should 
be considered equally the original natures from whom a fire-storm flowed out over the entire later world of 
the Greeks. 

Homer, the ancient self-absorbed dreamer, the archetype of the naive Apollonian artist, now stares astonished 
at the passionate head of wild Archilochus, the fighting servant of the muses, battered by existence. In its 
interpretative efforts, our recent aesthetics has known only how to indicate that here the first "subjective" 
artist stands in contrast to the "objective" artist. This interpretation is of little use, since we recognize the 
subjective artist as a bad artist and demand in every art and every high artistic achievement, first and foremost, 
a victory over the subjective, redemption from the "I," and the silence of every individual will and 
desire — indeed, we are incapable of accepting the slightest artistic creation as true, unless it has objectivity 
and a purely disinterested contemplation 


The Birth of Tragedy 

Hence, our aesthetic must first solve the problem of how it is possible for the "lyricist" to be an artist. For he, 
according to the experience of all ages, always says "I" and sings out the entire chromatic sequence of the 
sounds of his passions and desires. This Archilochus immediately startles us, alongside Homer, through his 
cry of hate and scorn, through the drunken eruptions of his desire. By doing this, isn't Archilochus (the first 
artist called subjective) essentially a non-artist? But then where does that veneration come from, which the 
Delphic oracle, the centre of "objective" art, showed to him, the poet, in very remarkable sayings. 

Schiller has illuminated his own writing process with a psychological observation, inexplicable to him, which 
nevertheless does not appear questionable. He confesses that when he was in a state of preparation, before he 
actually started writing, he did not have something like a series of pictures, with a structured causality of 
ideas, in front of him, but rather a musical mood: "With me, feeling at first lacks a defined and clear 
object — that develops for the first time later on. A certain musical emotional state comes first, and from this, 
with me, the poetic idea then follows." 

Now, if we add the most important phenomenon of the entire ancient lyric, the union, universally 
acknowledged as natural, between the lyricist and the musician, even their common identity (in comparison 
with which our recent lyrics look like the image of a god without a head) then we can, on the basis of the 
aesthetic metaphysics we established earlier, account for the lyric poet in the following manner. He has, first 
of all, as a Dionysian artist, become entirely one with the primordial oneness of his painful contradictory 
nature and produces the reflection of this primordial oneness as music, if music can with justice be called a 
re-working of the world, its second coat. But now this music becomes perceptible to him once again, as in a 
metaphorical dream image, under the influence of Apollonian dreaming. That reflection, which lacks imagery 
and concepts, of the original pain in music, together with its redemption in illusion, gives rise now to a second 
reflection as the particular metaphor or illustration. The artist has already surrendered his subjectivity in the 
Dionysian process. The image which now reveals his unity with the heart of the world is a dream scene, which 
symbolizes that original contradiction and pain, together with the primordial joy in illusion. The "I" of the 
lyric poet thus echoes out of the abyss of being. What recent aestheticians mean by his "subjectivity" is mere 

When Archilochus, the first Greek lyric poet, announces his raging love and, at the same time, his contempt 
for the daughters of Lycambes, it is not his own passion which dances in front of us in an orgiastic frenzy. We 
see Dionysus and the maenads; we see the intoxicated reveler Archilochus sunk down in sleep — as Euripides 
describes in the Bacchae, asleep in a high Alpine meadow in the midday sun — and now Apollo steps up to 
him and touches him with his laurel. The Dionysian musical enchantment of the sleeper now, as it were, 
flashes around him fiery images, lyrical poems, which are called, in their highest form, tragedies and dramatic 

The plastic artist as well as his relation, the epic poet, is absorbed in the pure contemplation of images. The 
Dionysian musician lacks any image and is in himself only and entirely the original pain and original 
reverberation of that image. The lyrical genius feels a world of images and metaphors grow up out of the 
mysteriously unified state of renunciation of the self. These have a colour, causality, and speed entirely 
different from that world of the plastic artist and the writer of epic. While the last of these (the epic poet) lives 
in these pictures and only in them with joyful contentment and does not get tired of contemplating them with 
love, right down to the smallest details. Even the image of the angry Achilles is for him only a picture whose 
expressions of anger he enjoys with that dream joy in illusions, so that he, by this mirror of appearances, is 
protected against the development of that sense of unity and being fused together with the forms he has 
created. By contrast, the images of the lyric poet are nothing but himself and, as it were, only different 
objectifications of himself. He can say "I" because he is the moving central point of that world. Only this "I" 
is not the same as the "I" of the awake, empirically real man, but the single "I" of true and eternal being in 
general, the "I" resting on the foundation of things. Through its portrayal the lyrical genius sees right into the 
very basis of things. 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

Now let's imagine how he looks upon himself among these likenesses, as a non-genius, that is, as his own 
"Subject," the entire unruly crowd of subjective passions and striving of his will aiming at something 
particular, which seems real to him. If it now seems as if the lyrical genius and the non-genius bound up with 
him were one and the same and as if he first spoke that little word "I" about himself, then this illusion could 
no longer deceive us, not at least in the way it deceived those who have defined the lyricist as a subjective 

To tell the truth, Archilochus, the man of passionately burning love and hate, is only a vision of the genius 
who is no longer Archilochus any more but a world genius and who expresses his primordial pain 
symbolically in Archilochus as a metaphor for man. That subjectively willing and desiring man Archilochus 
can never ever be a poet. It is not at all essential that the lyric poet see directly in front of him the phenomenon 
of the man Archilochus as a reflection of eternal being. Tragedy shows how far the visionary world of the 
lyric poet can distance itself from that phenomenon clearly standing near at hand. 

Schopenhauer, who did not hide from the difficulty which the lyric poet creates for the philosophical observer 
of art, believed that he had discovered a solution (something which I cannot go along with) when in his 
profound metaphysics of music he found a way setting the difficulty decisively to one side, as I believe I have 
done in his spirit and with due honour to him. He describes the essential nature of song as follows:. 

The consciousness of the singer is filled with the subject of willing, that is, his own willing, 
often as an unleashed satisfied willing (j°yX but also, and more often, as a restricted willing 
(sorrow). It is always a mobile condition of the heart: emotional and passionate. However, 
alongside this condition, the singer simultaneously, through a glimpse at the surrounding 
nature, becomes aware of himself as a subject of the pure, will-less knowledge, whose 
imperturbable, blessed tranquilly now enters to contrast the pressure of his always dull, 
always still limited willing. The sensation of this contrast, this game back and forth, is 
basically what expresses itself in the totality of the song and what, in general, creates the 
lyrical state. In this state, pure understanding, as it were, comes to us, to save us from willing 
and the pressures of willing. We follow along, but only moment by moment. The will, the 
memory of our personal goals, constantly interrupts this calm contemplation of ours, over and 
over again, but the next beautiful setting, in which pure will-less knowledge presents itself to 
us, always, once again, releases us from willing. Hence, in the song and the lyrical mood, 
willing (our personal interest in our own purposes) and pure contemplation in the setting 
which presents itself are miraculously mixed up together. We seek and imagine relationships 
between them both. The subjective mood, the emotional state of the will, communicates with 
the surroundings we contemplate, and the latter, in turn, gives its colour to our mood, in a 
reflex action. The true song is the expression of this entire emotional condition, mixed and 
divided in this way." (World as Will and Idea, I, 295) 

Who can fail to recognize in this description that here the lyric has been characterized as an incompletely 
realized art, a leap, as it were, which seldom attains its goal, indeed, as a semi-art, whose essence must 
consist of the fact that the will and pure contemplation, that is, the unaesthetic and the aesthetic conditions, 
must be miraculously mixed up together? In contrast to this, we maintain that the entire opposition, which 
even Schopenhauer uses as a measurement of value to classify art, that opposition of the subjective and the 
objective, has generally no place in aesthetics, since the subject, the willing individual demanding his own 
egotistical purposes, can only be thought of as an enemy of art not as its origin. 

But insofar as the subject is an artist, he is already released from his individual willing and has become, so to 
speak, a medium through which a subject of true being celebrates its redemption. For we need to be clear on 
this point, above everything else (to our humiliation or ennoblement): the entire comedy of art does not 
present itself for us in order to make us better or to educate us — even less so that we should be the true 

5 17 

The Birth of Tragedy 

creators of the art world. We should really look upon ourselves as beautiful pictures and artistic projections of 
the true creator, and in that significance as works of art we have our highest value, for only as an aesthetic 
phenomena are existence and the world eternally justified, while, of course, our own consciousness of this 
significance of ours is no different from the consciousness which soldiers painted on canvas have of the battle 
portrayed there. 

Hence our entire knowledge of art is basically completely illusory, because, as knowing people, we are not 
one with or identical to that being who, as the single creator and spectator of that comedy of art, prepares for 
itself an eternal enjoyment. Only to the extent that the genius in the act of artistic creation is fused with that 
primordial artist of the world, does he know anything about the eternal nature of art, only in that state in which 
(as in the weird picture of fairy tales) he can miraculously turn his eyes and contemplate himself. Now he is 
simultaneously subject and object, all at once poet, actor, and spectator. 

With respect to Archilochus, learned scholarship has revealed that he introduced the folk song into literature 
and that, because of this achievement, he earned his place next to Homer in the universal estimation of the 
Greeks. But what is the folk song in comparison to the completely Apollonian epic poem? What else but the 
perpetuum vestigum [the eternal mark] of a union between the Apollonian and the Dionysian? Its tremendous 
expansion, extending to all peoples and constantly increasing with new births, testifies to us how strong that 
artistic duality of nature is: which, to use an analogy, leaves its trace behind in the folk song just as the 
orgiastic movements of a people leave their traces in its music. Indeed, it must also be historically 
demonstrable how that period rich in folk songs at the same time was stirred in the strongest manner by 
Dionysian trends, something which we have to recognize as the foundation and precondition of folk songs. 

But to begin with, we must view the folk song as the musical mirror of the world, as the primordial melody, 
which seeks for a parallel dream image of itself and expresses this in poetry. The melody is thus primary and 
universal, for which reason it can undergo many objectifications, in several texts. It is also far more important 
and more essential in the naive evaluations of the people. Melody gives birth to poetry from itself, over and 
over again. The forms of the strophes in the folk song indicate that to us. I have always observed this 
phenomenon with astonishment, until I finally came up with this explanation. Whoever looks at a collection 
of folk songs, for example, Des Knaben Wunderhorn [The Boy's Miraculous Horn] with this theory in mind 
will find countless examples of how the continually fecund melody emits fiery showers of images all around. 
These images, with their bright colours, sudden alteration, and their wild momentum, reveal a power 
completely foreign to the epic illusion and its calm forward progress. From the standpoint of epic this uneven 
and irregular word of images in the lyric is easy to condemn — something no doubt the solemn rhapsodists of 
the Apollonian celebrations did in the age of Terpander. 

Thus, in the poetry of the folk song we see the language of poetry most strongly pressured to imitate music. 
Hence, with Archilochus a new world of poetry begins, something which conflicts very profoundly with the 
Homeric world. Here we have demonstrated the one possible relationship between poetry and music, word 
and tone: word, image, and idea look for metaphorical expression in music and experience the power of 
music. In this sense we can distinguish two main streams in the history of the language of the Greek people: 
language which imitates appearance and images and language which imitates the world of music. 

Let's think for a moment more deeply about the linguistic difference in colour, syntactic structure, and 
vocabulary between Homer and Pindar in order to grasp the significance of this contrast. It will become 
crystal clear to some that between Homer and Pindar the orgiastic flute melodies of Olympus must have rung 
out, music which even in the time of Aristotle, in the midst of an infinitely more sophisticated music, drove 
people into raptures of drunken enthusiasm and with their natural effects no doubt stimulated all the poetical 
forms of expression of contemporaries to imitate them. 

6 18 

The Birth of Tragedy 

I recall here a well-known phenomenon of our own times, something which strikes our aestheticians as 
objectionable. Again and again we experience how a Beethoven symphony makes it necessary for the 
individual listener to talk in images, even if it's true that the collection of different worlds of imagery created 
by a musical piece really looks fantastically confused, even contradictory. The most proper style of our 
aestheticians is to exercise their lame wits on such a collection and to overlook the phenomenon which is 
really worth explaining. Even when the tone poet has spoken in images about his composition, for example, 
when he describes a symphony as a pastoral, one movement as "A Scene by the Brook," and another as "A 
Frolicking Meeting of Peasants," these expressions are in any event only metaphors, images born out of the 
music and not some objective condition imitated by the music. These notions cannot teach us anything at all 
about the Dionysian content of the music and have no exclusive value alongside other pictures. 

Now, we have only to transfer this process of unloading music into pictures to a large, youthful, linguistically 
creative population in order to sense how the strophic folk song arose and how the entire linguistic capability 
was stimulated by a new principle, the imitation of music. If we can thus consider the lyrical poem as the 
mimetic efflorescence of music in pictures and ideas, then we can now ask the following question: "What 
does music look like in the mirror of imagery and ideas?" It appears as the will, taking that word in 
Schopenhauer's sense, that is, as the opposite to the aesthetic, pure, contemplative, will-less state. Here we 
should differentiate as sharply as possible the idea of being from the idea of appearance. For it is impossible 
for music, given its nature, to be the will, because if that were the case we would have to ban music entirely 
from the realm of art. For the will consists of what is inherently unaesthetic. But music appears as the will. 

In order to express that appearance in images, the lyric poet needs all the excitement of passion, from the 
whispers of affection right to the ravings of lunacy. Under the impulse to speak of music in Apollonian 
metaphors, he understands all nature and himself in nature only as eternal willing, desiring, yearning. 
However, insofar as he interprets music in images, he is resting in the still tranquility of the sea of Apollonian 
observation, no matter how much everything which he contemplates through that medium of music is moving 
around him, pushing and driving. Indeed, if he looks at himself through that same medium, his own image 
reveals itself to him in a condition of emotional dissatisfaction. His own willing, yearning, groaning, and 
cheering are for him a metaphor which he interprets the music for himself. This is the phenomenon of the lyric 
poet: as an Apollonian genius he interprets the music through the image of the will, while he himself, fully 
released from the greed of his will, is a pure, untroubled eye of the sun. 

This entire discussion firmly maintains that the lyric is just as dependent on the spirit of music as is music 
itself. In its complete freedom, music does not use image and idea, but only tolerates them as something 
additional to itself. The poetry of the lyricist can express nothing which was not already latent in the immense 
universality and validity of the music, which forces him to speak in images. The world symbolism of music 
for this very reason cannot in any way be overcome by or reduced to language, because music addresses itself 
symbolically to the primordial contradiction and pain in the heart of the original oneness, and thus presents in 
symbolic form a sphere which is above all appearances and prior to them. In comparison with music, each 
appearance is far more a mere metaphor. Hence, language, the organ and symbol of appearances, never ever 
converts the deepest core of music to something external, but always remains, as long as it involves itself with 
the imitation of music, only in superficial contact with the music. The full eloquence of lyric poetry cannot 
bring us one step closer to the deepest meaning of music. 

We must now seek assistance from all the artistic principles laid out above in order to find our way correctly 
through the labyrinth — a descriptive term we have to use to designate the origin of Greek tragedy. I don't 
think I'm saying anything illogical when I claim that the problem of this origin has not once been seriously 
formulated up to now, let alone solved, no matter how frequently the scattered scraps of ancient tradition have 
been put together in combinations with one another and then again ripped apart. 

7 19 

The Birth of Tragedy 

This tradition tells us very emphatically that tragedy developed out of the tragic chorus and originally 
consisted only of a chorus and nothing else. This fact requires us to look into the heart of this tragic chorus as 
the essential original drama, without allowing ourselves to be satisfied in any way with the common styles of 
talking about art — that the chorus is the ideal spectator or had the job of standing in for the people over 
against the royal area of the scene. 

That last mentioned point, a conceptual explanation which sounds so lofty for many politicians (as though the 
invariable moral law was presented by the democratic Athenians in the people's chorus, which was always 
proved right in matters dealing with their kings' passionate acts of violence and excess) may have been 
suggested by a word from Aristotle. But such an idea has no influence on the original formation of tragedy, 
since all the opposition between people and ruler and every political-social issue in general is excluded from 
those purely religious origins. Looking with hindsight back on the classical form of the chorus known to us in 
Aeschylus and Sophocles we might well consider it blasphemous to talk of a premonition of the 
"constitutional popular representation" here. Others, however, have not been deterred from this blasphemous 
assertion. The ancient political organizations had no practical knowledge of a constitutional popular 
representation and they never once "had a hopeful premonition" of such things in their tragedies. 

Much more famous than this political explanation of the chorus is A. W. Schlegel's idea. He recommended 
that we consider the chorus to some extent as a sample embodiment of the crowd of onlookers, as the "ideal 
spectator." This view, combined with that historical tradition that originally the tragedy consisted entirely of 
the chorus, reveals itself for what it is, a crude and unscholarly, although dazzling, claim. But the glitter 
survives only in the compact form of the expression, from the real German prejudice for everything which is 
called "ideal," and from our momentary astonishment. 

For we are astonished, as soon as we compare the theatre public we know well with that chorus and ask 
ourselves whether it would be at all possible on the basis of this public to derive some idealization analogous 
to the tragic chorus. We silently deny this and then are surprised by the audacity of Schlegel's claim as well as 
by the totally different nature of the Greek general public. For we had always thought that the proper 
spectator, whoever he might be, must always remain conscious that he has a work of art in front of him, not an 
empirical reality. By contrast, the tragic chorus of the Greeks is required to recognize the shapes on the stage 
as living, existing people. The chorus of Oceanids really believes that they see the Titan Prometheus in front 
of them and consider themselves every bit as real as the god of the scene. 

And is that supposed to be the highest and purest type of spectator, a person who, like the Oceanids, considers 
Prometheus vitally alive and real? Would it be a mark of the ideal spectator to run up onto the stage and free 
the god from his torment? We had believed in an aesthetic public and considered the individual spectator 
sufficiently capable, the more he was in a position to take the work of art as art, that is, aesthetically. This 
saying of Schlegel's indicates to us that the completely ideal spectator lets the scenic world work on him, not 
aesthetically at all, but vitally and empirically. "Oh, what about these Greeks!" we sigh, "they are knocking 
over our aesthetics!" But once we get used to that idea, we repeat Schlegel's saying every time we talk about 
the chorus. 

But that emphatic tradition speaks here against Schlegel. The chorus in itself, without the stage, that is, the 
primitive form of tragedy, and that chorus of ideal spectators are not compatible. What sort of artistic style 
would we have if from this the idea of the spectator we derived, as its essential form, the "spectator in 
himself (the pure spectator). The spectator without a play is a contradictory idea. We suspect that the birth of 
tragedy cannot be explained either from the high estimation of the moral intelligence of the masses or from 
the idea of the spectator without a play. And we consider this problem too profound to be touched by such 
superficial styles of commentary. 


The Birth of Tragedy 

Schiller has already provided an infinitely more valuable insight into the meaning of the chorus in the famous 
preface to the Bride from Messina — the chorus viewed as a living wall which tragedy draws about itself in 
order to separate itself cleanly from the real world and to protect its ideal space and its poetical freedom for 
itself. With this as his main weapon Schiller fought against the common idea of naturalism, against the 
common demand for illustionistic dramatic poetry. While in the theatre daytime might be only artistic and 
stage architecture only symbolic, and the nature of the metrical language might have an ideal quality, 
nevertheless, on the whole, a misconception still ruled: it was not enough, Schiller claimed, that people 
merely tolerated as poetic freedom what was the essence of all poetry. The introduction of the chorus, 
according to Schiller, was the decisive step with which war was declared openly and nobly against naturalism 
in art. 

Such a way of looking at things is the one, it strikes me, for which our age (which considers itself so superior) 
uses the dismissive catch phrase "pseudo-idealism." I suspect, by contrast, that with our present worship of 
naturalism and realism we are situated at the opposite pole from all idealism, namely, in the region of a wax 
works collection. In that, too, there is an art, as in certain romance novels of the present time. Only let no one 
pester us with the claim that with this we have overthrown the artistic "pseudo-idealism" of Schiller and 

Of course, it is an "ideal" stage on which, following Schiller's correct insight, the Greek satyr chorus, the 
chorus of the primitive tragedy, customarily strolled, a stage lifted high above over the real strolling stage of 
mortal men. For this chorus the Greeks constructed a suspended hovering framework of an imaginary natural 
condition and on it placed imaginary natural beings. Tragedy grew up out of this foundation and, for that very 
reason, has, from its inception, been spared the embarrassing business of counterfeiting reality. 

That is not to say that it is a world arbitrarily fantasized somewhere between heaven and earth. It is much 
rather a world possessing the same reality and credibility for the devout Greek as the world of Olympus, 
together with its inhabitants. The satyr as the Dionysian chorus member lives in a reality permitted by 
religion, sanctioned by myth and culture. The fact that tragedy begins with him, that out of him the Dionysian 
wisdom of tragedy speaks, is a phenomenon as foreign to us here as the development of tragedy out of the 
chorus generally. 

Perhaps we can reach a starting point for this discussion when I offer the claim that the satyr himself, the 
imaginary natural being, is related to the cultural person in the same way that Dionysian music is related to 
civilization. On this last point Richard Wagner states that civilization is neutralized by music in the same way 
lamplight is by daylight. In just such a manner, I believe, the cultured Greek felt himself neutralized by the 
sight of the chorus of satyrs. This is the most direct effect of Dionysian tragedy: generally , the state and 
society, the gap between man and man give way to an invincible feeling of unity which leads back to the heart 
of nature. 

The metaphysical consolation, which as I have already indicated, true tragedy leaves us, that at the bottom of 
everything, in spite of all the transformations in phenomena, life is indestructibly power and delightful, this 
consolation appears in lively clarity as the chorus of satyrs, the chorus of natural beings, who live, as it were, 
behind civilization, who cannot disappear, and who, in spite of all the changes in generations and a people's 
history, always remain the same. With this chorus, the profound Greek, capable of the most delicate and the 
most severe suffering, consoled himself, the man who looked around with a daring gaze in the middle of the 
terrifying destructive instincts of so-called world history and equally into the cruelty of nature and who is in 
danger of longing for the denial of the will of Buddhism. Art saves him, and through art life saves him. 

The ecstasy of the Dionysian state, with its destruction of the customary manacles and boundaries of 
existence, contains, of course, for as long as it lasts a lethargic element, in which everything personally 
experienced in the past is immersed. Through this gulf of oblivion, the world of everyday reality and the 

7 21 

The Birth of Tragedy 

Dionysian reality separate from each other. As soon as that daily reality comes back again into consciousness, 
one feels it as something disgusting. The fruit of this condition is an ascetic condition, in which one denies the 
power of the will. 

In this sense the Dionysian man has similarities to Hamlet. Both have had a real glimpse into the essence of 
things. They have understood, and it now disgusts them to act, for their actions can change nothing in the 
eternal nature of things. They perceive as ridiculous or humiliating the fact that it is expected of them that they 
should set right a world turned upside down. The knowledge kills action, for action requires a state of being in 
which we are covered with the veil of illusion. That is what Hamlet has to teach us, not that really venal 
wisdom about John-a-Dreams, who cannot move himself to act because of too much reflection, too many 
possibilities, so to speak. It's not a case of reflection. No! The true knowledge, the glimpse into the cruel truth 
overcomes the driving motive to act, both in Hamlet as well as in the Dionysian man. 

Now no consolation has any effect. His longing goes out over the world, even beyond the gods themselves, 
toward death. Existence is denied, together with its blazing reflection in the gods or an immortal afterlife. In 
the consciousness of once having glimpsed the truth, man now sees everywhere only the horror or absurdity of 
being; now he understands the symbolism in the fate of Ophelia; now he recognizes the wisdom of the forest 
god Silenus. It disgusts him. 

Here the will in in the highest danger. Thus, to be saved, it comes close to the healing magician, art. Art alone 
can turn those thoughts of disgust at the horror or absurdity of existence into imaginary constructs, which 
permit living to continue. These constructs are the Sublime as the artistic mastering of the horrible and the 
Comic as the artistic release from disgust at the absurd. The chorus of satyrs in the dithyramb is the saving 
fact of Greek art. The emotional fits I have just described play themselves out by means of the world of these 
Dionysian attendants. 


The satyr and the idyllic shepherd of our more recent times are both the epitome of a longing directed toward 
the primordial and natural, but with what a strong fearless grip the Greek held onto his men from the woods, 
and how timidly and weakly modern man toys with the flattering image of a delicate and gentle flute-playing 
shepherd! The Greek who had not been worked on as yet by any knowledge which kept culture imprisoned 
saw nature in his satyr, and so he did not yet mistake satyrs for apes. Quite the contrary: the satyr was the 
primordial image of man, the expression of his highest and strongest emotions, as an inspired reveler, 
enraptured by the approach of the god, as a sympathetic companion, in whom the suffering of the god was 
repeated, as a messenger bringing wisdom from the deepest heart of nature, as a perceptible image of the 
sexual omnipotence of nature, which the Greek was accustomed to observing with reverent astonishment. 

The satyr was something sublime and divine — that's how he must have seemed especially to the painfully 
broken gaze of the Dionysian man, who would have been insulted by our well groomed fictitious shepherd. 
His eye lingered with sublime satisfaction on the exposed, vigorous, and magnificent script of nature. Here the 
illusion of culture was wiped away by the primordial image of man. Here the real man revealed himself, the 
bearded satyr who cried out with joy to his god. In comparison with him the man of culture was reduced to a 
misleading caricature. Schiller was also right to see in these matters the start of tragic art: the chorus is a 
living wall against the pounding reality, because it — the satyr chorus — presents existence more genuinely, 
truly, and completely than does the civilized person, who generally considers himself the only reality. 

The sphere of poetry does not lie beyond this world as the fantastic impossibility of a poet's brain. It wants to 
be exactly the opposite, the unadorned expression of the truth, and it must therefore cast off the false costume 
of that truth thought up by the man of culture. The contrast of this real truth of nature and the cultural lie 
which behaves as if it is the only reality is similar to the contrast between the eternal core of things, the 

8 22 

The Birth of Tragedy 

thing-in-itself, and the total world of appearances. And just as tragedy, with its metaphysical consolation, 
draws attention to the eternal life of that existential core in the continuing destruction of appearances, so the 
symbolism of the satyr chorus already expresses metaphorically that primordial relationship between the 
thing-in-itself and appearances. That idyllic shepherd of modern man is only a counterfeit, the totality of 
cultural illusions which he counts as nature. The Dionysian Greek wants truth and nature in their highest 
power: he seems himself transformed into a satyr. 

The enraptured horde of those who served Dionysus rejoiced under the influence of such moods and insights, 
whose power transformed them before their very eyes, so that they imagined themselves as restored natural 
geniuses, as satyrs. The later constitution of the tragic chorus is the artistic imitation of that natural 
phenomenon, in which now a division was surely necessary between the Dionysian spectators and those under 
the Dionysian enchantment. But we must always remind ourselves that the public in Attic tragedy 
re-discovered itself in chorus of the orchestra and that basically there was no opposition between the public 
and the chorus. For everything is only a huge sublime chorus of dancing and singing satyrs or of those people 
who permit themselves to be represented by these satyrs. 

We must now appropriate that saying of Schlegel's in a deeper sense. The chorus is the "ideal spectator," 
insofar as it is the only onlooker, the person who sees the visionary world of the scene. A public of spectators, 
as we know it, was unknown to the Greeks. In their theatre, given the way the spectators' space was built up in 
terraces, raised up in concentric rings, it was possible for everyone quite literally to look out over the 
collective cultural world around him and with a complete perspective to imagine himself a member of the 
chorus. Given this insight, we can call the chorus, in its primitive stages of the prototypical tragedy, the 
self-reflection of Dionysian men, a phenomenon which we can make out most clearly in the experience of the 
actor, who, if he is really gifted, sees perceptibly before his eyes the image of the role he has to play, hovering 
there for him to grasp. 

The satyr chorus is, first and foremost, a vision of the Dionysian mass, just as, in turn, the world of the acting 
area is a vision of this satyr chorus. The power of this vision is strong enough to dull and desensitize the 
impression of "reality," the sight of the cultured people ranged in their rows of seats all around. The form of 
the Greek theatre is a reminder of a solitary mountain valley. The architecture of the scene appears as an 
illuminated picture of a cloud, which the Bacchae gaze upon, as they swarm down from the mountain heights, 
as the majestic setting in the middle of which the image of Dionysus is revealed. 

This primitive artistic illusion, which we are putting into words here to explain the tragic chorus, is, from the 
perspective of our scholarly views about the basic artistic process, almost offensive, although nothing can be 
more obvious than that the poet is only a poet because of the fact that he sees himself surrounded by shapes 
which live and act in front of him and into whose innermost being he gazes. Through some peculiar weakness 
in our modern talent, we are inclined to imagine that primitive aesthetic phenomenon in too complicated and 
abstract a manner. 

For the true poet, metaphor is not a rhetorical trope, but a representative image which really hovers in front of 
him in the place of an idea. The character is for him not a totality put together from individual traits collected 
bit by bit, but a living person, insistently there before his eyes, which differs from the similar vision of the 
painter only through its continued further living and acting. Why does Homer give us descriptions so much 
more vivid than all the poets? Because he sees so much more around him. We speak about poetry so abstractly 
because we all tend to be poor poets. The aesthetic phenomenon is fundamentally simple: if someone just 
possesses the capacity to see a living game going on and to live all the time surrounded by hordes of ghosts, 
then that man is a poet. If someone just feels the urge to change himself and to speak out from other bodies 
and souls, then that person is a dramatist. 


The Birth of Tragedy 

Dionysian excitement is capable of communicating this artistic talent to an entire multitude, so that they see 
themselves surrounded by such a horde of ghosts with which they know they are innerly one. This dynamic of 
the tragic chorus is the original dramatic phenomenon: to see oneself transformed before one's eyes and now 
to act as if one really had entered another body, another character. This process stands right at the beginning 
of the development of drama. Here is something different from the rhapsodist, who never fuses with his 
images, but, like the painter, sees them with an observing eye outside himself. In this drama there is already a 
surrender of individuality by entering into a strange nature. And this phenomenon breaks out like an epidemic; 
an entire horde feels itself enchanted in this way. 

For this reason the dithyramb is essentially different from every other choral song. The virgins who move 
solemnly to Apollo's temple with laurel branches in their hands singing a processional song as they go, remain 
who they are and retain their names as citizens. The dithyrambic chorus is a chorus of transformed people, for 
whom their civic past, their social position, is completely forgotten. They have become their god's timeless 
servants, living beyond all regions of society. All other choral lyrics of the Greeks are only an immense 
intensification of the Apollonian solo singer; whereas in the dithyramb a congregation of unconscious actors 
stands before us, who look upon each other as transformed. Enchantment is the precondition for all dramatic 
art. In this enchantment the Dionysian reveler sees himself as a satyr, and then, in turn, as a satyr he looks at 
his god. That is, in his transformed state he sees a new vision outside himself as an Apollonian fulfillment of 
his condition. With this new vision drama is complete. 

With this knowledge in mind, we must understand Greek tragedy as the Dionysian chorus which over and 
over again constantly discharges itself in an Apollonian world of images. Those choral passages interspersed 
through tragedy are thus, as it were, the maternal bosom of the entire dialogue so-called, that is, of the totality 
of the stage word, the drama itself. This primordial basis of tragedy sends its vision pulsing out in several 
discharges following one after the other, a vision which is entirely a dream image and therefore epic in nature, 
but, on the other hand, as an objectification of a Dionysian state, it presents not the Apollonian consolation in 
illusion, but its opposite, the smashing of individuality and becoming one with primordial being. With this, 
drama is the Apollonian projection of Dionysian knowledge and effects, and thus is separated by an immense 
gulf from epic. 

This conception of ours provides a full explanation for the chorus of Greek tragedy, the symbol for the total 
frenzied Dionysian multitude. While, given what we are used to with the role of the chorus on the modern 
stage, especially the chorus in opera, we are totally unable to grasp how this tragic chorus could be older, 
more original, even more important than the real "action" (as tradition tell us so clearly), while we cannot then 
figure out why, given that traditionally high importance and original preeminence, that chorus would be put 
together only out of lowly serving creatures, at first only out of goat-like satyrs, and while for us the orchestra 
in front of the acting area remains a constant enigma, we have now come to the insight that the acting area 
together with the action is basically and originally thought of only as a vision, that the single "reality" is the 
chorus itself, which creates the vision out of itself and speaks of that with the entire symbolism of dance, tone, 
and word. 

This chorus in its vision gazes at its lord and master Dionysus and is thus always the chorus of servants. The 
chorus sees how Dionysus, the god, suffers and glorifies himself, and thus it does not itself act. But in this 
role, as complete servants in relation to the god, the chorus is nevertheless the highest (that is, the Dionysian) 
expression of nature and, like nature, thus in its frenzy speaks the language of oracular wisdom, as the 
sympathetic as well as wise person reporting the truth from the heart of the world. So arises that fantastic and 
apparently offensive figure of the wise and frenzied satyr, who is, at the same time, "the naive man" in 
contrast to the god: an image of nature and its strongest drives, a symbol of that and at the same time the 
announcer of its wisdom and art: musician, poet, dancer, visionary — in a single person. 


The Birth of Tragedy 

According to this insight and to the tradition, Dionysus, the essential stage hero and centre of the vision, was 
not really present in the very oldest periods of tragedy, but was only imagined as present. That is, originally 
tragedy was only "chorus" and not "drama." Later the attempt was made to show the god as real and then to 
present in a way visible to every eye the form of the vision together with the transfiguring setting. At that 
point "drama" in the strict sense begins. Now the dithyrambic chorus takes on the task of stimulating the 
mood of the listeners right up to the Dionysian level, so that when the tragic hero appeared on the stage, they 
did not see something like an awkward masked person but a visionary shape born, as it were, out of their own 

If we imagine Admetus thinking deeply about his recently departed wife Alcestis and pining away in his 
spiritual contemplation of her, and how suddenly is led up to him an image of a woman of similar form and 
similar gait, but in disguise, if we imagine his sudden trembling anticipation, his emotional comparisons, his 
instinctive conviction — then we have an analogy to the sensation with which the aroused Dionysian spectator 
sees the god stride onto the stage, with whose suffering he has already become one. Spontaneously he 
transfers the whole picture of the god, which like magic trembles in his soul, onto that masked form and 
dissolves the reality of that figure as if in a ghostly unreality. This is the Apollonian dream state, in which the 
world of day veils itself and a new world, clearer, more comprehensible, more moving than the first, and yet 
shadow-like generates itself anew in a continuing series of changes before our eyes. 

With this in mind, we can recognize in tragedy a drastic contrast of styles: speech, colour, movement, 
dynamics of speech appear in the Dionysian lyric of the chorus and also in the Apollonian dream world of the 
scene as expressive spheres completely separate from each other. The Apollonian illusions, in which Dionysus 
objectifies himself, are no longer "an eternal sea, a changing weaving motion, a glowing sense of living" (as is 
the case with the music of the chorus), no longer those powers which are only felt and cannot be turned into 
poetic images, in which the frenzied servant of Dionysus feels the approach of the god. Now, from the acting 
area the clarity and solemnity of the epic form speaks to him; now Dionysus no longer speaks through forces 
but as an epic hero, almost with the language of Homer. 

Everything which comes to the surface in the Apollonian part of Greek tragedy, in the dialogue, looks simple, 
translucent, and beautiful. In this sense the dialogue is an image of the Greeks, whose nature reveals itself in 
dancing, because in dancing the greatest power is only latent, betraying its presence in the lithe and rich 
movement. The language of the Sophoclean heroes surprises us by its Apollonian clarity and brightness, so 
that we immediately imagine that we are glimpsing the innermost basis of their being, with some 
astonishment that the path to this foundation is so short. 

However, once we look away from the character of the hero as it surfaces and becomes perceptible (a 
character which is basically nothing more than a light picture cast onto a dark wall, that is, an illusion through 
and through) we penetrate further into the myth which projects itself in this bright reflection. At that point we 
suddenly experience a phenomenon which is the reverse of a well known optical one.. When we make a 
determined attempt to look directly at the sun and turn away blinded, we have dark coloured specks in front of 
our eyes, like a remedy. Those illuminated illusory pictures of the Sophoclean heroes are the reverse of that: 
briefly put, the Apollonian of the mask, necessary creations of a glimpse into the inner terror of nature, are 
like bright spots to heal us from the horrifying night of the disabled gaze. Only in this sense can we think of 
correctly grasping the serious and significant idea of "Greek serenity"; whereas nowadays we run into the 
false idea of this as a condition of safe contentment with all of life's paths and bridges 

The most painful figure of the Greek stage, the unlucky Oedipus, is understood by Sophocles as the noble man 
who is destined for error and misery in spite of his wisdom, but who at the end through his immense suffering 
exerts a beneficial effect around him which is effective on those different from him. The noble man does not 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

sin — that's what the profound poet wishes to tell us: through Oedipus' actions every law, every natural 
principle of order, indeed, the entire moral world may collapse, but because of these actions a higher circle of 
consequences is created, which will found a new world on the ruins of the old world which has been 
overthrown. Insofar as the poet is also a religious thinker, that is what he says to us. As a poet, he shows us 
first a wonderfully complicated legal knot, which the judge, link by link, undoes, in the process destroying 
himself. The real joy for the Greek in this dialectical solution is so great that a sense of powerful serenity 
invests the entire work, which breaks the sting of the dreadful pre-conditions which started the process. 

In Oedipus in Colonus we run into this same serenity, but elevated by an immeasurable transformation. 
Unlike the old man afflicted with excessive suffering, a man who merely suffers as the victim of everything 
which happens to him, now we have the unearthly serenity which descends from the sphere of the gods and 
indicates to us that the hero in his purely passive conduct achieves his highest action, which reaches out far 
over his own life (whereas his conscious striving in his earlier life led him to pure passivity). Thus for the 
mortal eye the inextricably tangled legal knot of the Oedipus story is slowly untangled, and the most profound 
human joy suffuses us with this divine dialectical companion piece.. 

If we have here correctly explained the poet, one can still ask whether the content of the myth has been 
exhausted in that explanation. And here we see that the entire conception of the poet is nothing other than that 
illuminated image which nature as healer holds up before us after a glimpse into the abyss. Oedipus the 
murderer of his father, the husband of his mother, Oedipus the solver of the riddle of the sphinx ! What does 
the secret trinity of these fatal events tell us? There is a very ancient folk belief, especially in Persia, that a 
wise magus could be born only out of incest. With hindsight on Oedipus as the solver of riddles and 
emancipator of his mother, what we have to interpret right away is the fact that right there where, through 
prophecy and magical powers, the spell of present and future is broken, that rigid law of individuation and the 
essential magic of nature in general, then an immense natural horror (for example, incest) must have come 
first as the original cause. For how could we compel nature to yield up its secrets, if not for the fact that we 
fight back against her and win, that is, if not for the fact that we commit unnatural actions? 

I see this idea stamped out in that dreadful trinity of Oedipus's three fates: the same man who solved the riddle 
of nature (the ambiguous sphinx) must also break the most sacred natural laws when he murders his father and 
marries his mother. Indeed, the myth seems to want to whisper to us that wisdom — especially Dionysian 
wisdom — is something horrific and hostile to nature, that a man who through his knowledge pushes nature 
into the destructive abyss, has to experience in himself the disintegration of nature. "The lance of knowledge 
turns itself against the wise man. Wisdom is a crime against nature." The myth calls out such frightening 
statements to us. But, like a ray of sunlight, the Greek poet touches the sublime and fearful Memnon's Column 
of Myth, so that the myth suddenly begins to play out Sophoclean melodies. 

Now I'm going to compare the glory of passivity with the glory of activity which illuminates Aeschylus's 
Prometheus.. What Aeschylus the thinker had to say to us here, but what Aeschylus as a poet could only hint 
at through a metaphorical picture — that's what young Goethe knew how to reveal in the bold words of his 

"Here I sit — I make men 

in my own image, 

a race like me, 

to suffer, to weep, 

to enjoy life and rejoice, 

and then to pay no attention, 

like me." 


The Birth of Tragedy 

Man, rising up into something Titanic, is victorious over his own culture and compels the gods to unite with 
him, because in his self-controlled wisdom he holds their existence and the limits to their authority in his 
hand. The most marvelous thing in that poem of Prometheus, which is, according to its basic concepts, is a 
hymn celebrating impiety, is, however, the deep Aeschylean impulse for justice. The immeasurable suffering 
of the brave "individual", on the one hand, and, on the other, the peril faced by the gods, even a presentiment 
of the twilight of the gods, the compelling power for a metaphysical oneness, for a reconciliation of both these 
worlds of suffering — all this is a powerful reminder of the central point and major claim of the Aeschylean 
world view, which sees fate (Moira) enthroned over gods and men as eternal justice. 

With respect to the astonishing daring with which Aeschylus places the Olympian world on his scales of 
justice, we must remind ourselves that the deep-thinking Greek had an unshakably firm basis for 
metaphysical thinking in his mystery cults, and that he could unload all his skeptical moods onto the 
Olympians. The Greek artist, in particular, in looking back on these divinities, felt a dark sense of reciprocal 
dependency. And this sense is symbolized especially in Aeschylus's Prometheus. The Titanic artist 
(Prometheus) found in himself the defiant belief that he could make men and, at the very least, destroy 
Olympian gods — all this through his higher wisdom, which he, of course, was compelled to atone for in 
eternal suffering. The magnificent capability of the great genius, for whom eternal suffering itself is too cheap 
a price, the harsh pride of the artist — that is the content and soul of Aeschylean poetry; whereas, Sophocles in 
his Oedipus makes his case by sounding out the victory song of the holy man. 

But also this meaning which Aeschylus gave the myth does not fill the astonishing depth of its terror. The 
artist's joy in being, the serenity of artistic creativity in spite of that impiety, is only a light picture of cloud 
and sky, which mirrors itself in a dark ocean of sorrow. The Prometheus saga is a primordial possession of the 
Aryan population collectively and documentary evidence of their talent for the profoundly tragic. In fact, it 
could be the case that for the Aryan being this myth has the same defining meaning as the myth of the Fall has 
for the Semitic peoples, and that both myths are, to some degree, related, as brother and sister. 

The pre-condition of this Prometheus myth is the extraordinary value which a naive humanity associates with 
fire as the true divine protector of that rising culture. But the fact that man freely controls fire and does not 
receive it merely as a gift from heaven, as a stirring lightning flash or warming rays of the sun, appeared to 
these contemplative primitive men as an outrage, a crime against divine nature. And so right there the first 
philosophical problem posed an awkward insoluble contradiction between man and god and pushed it right up 
to the door of that culture, like a boulder. The best and loftiest thing which mankind can share is achieved 
through a crime, and people must now accept the further consequences, namely, the entire flood of suffering 
and troubles with which the offended divine presences afflict the nobly ambitious human race. Such things 
must happen — an austere notion which, through the value which it gives to a crime, stands in a curious 
contrast to the Semitic myth of the Fall, in which curiosity, lying falsehoods, temptation, lust, in short, a row 
of predominantly female emotions are look upon as the origin of evil. 

What distinguishes the Aryan conception is the lofty view of an active transgression as the essentially 
Promethean virtue. With this, the ethical basis of pessimistic tragedy is established together with the 
justification of human evil, that is, human guilt as the penalty for that sin. The impiety in the essence of 
things — that's what the thinking Aryan is not inclined to quibble away. The contradiction in the heart of the 
world reveals itself to him as the interpenetration of different worlds, for example, a divine and human world, 
each one of which is right in its separate way but which must suffer for its individuality as the two worlds 
come close together. 

With this heroic push of the individual into the universal, with this attempt to stride out over the limits of 
individuation and to wish to be oneself a world being, man suffers in himself the contradiction hidden in 
things, that is, he violates the laws and he suffers. Just as among the Aryans crime is seen as male, and among 
the Semites sin is seen as female, so the original crime was committed by a man, the original sin by a woman. 

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The Birth of Tragedy 
In this connection, the chorus of witches [in Goethe's Faust] says: 

We're not so particular in what we say: 
Woman takes a thousand steps to get her way. 
But no matter how quickly she hurries on, 
With just one leap the man will get it done. 

Anyone who understands this innermost core of the Prometheus saga, namely, the imperative requirement that 
the individual striving like a Titan has to fall into crime, must also sense at the same time the un- Apollonian 
quality of this pessimistic concept. For Apollo wants to make these separate individual worlds tranquil 
precisely because he establishes the border line between them and, with his demands for self-knowledge and 
moderation, always reminds us once again of the most sacred laws of the world. However, to prevent this 
Apollonian tendency from freezing form into Egyptian stiffness and frigidity and to prevent the movement of 
the entire ocean from dying away, through the attempts of the Apollonian tendency to prescribe to the 
individual waves their path and extent, from time to time the high flood of the Dionysian destroys those small 
circles in which the one-sided Apollonian will seeks to confine the Greek spirit. Now suddenly a tidal wave 
of the Dionysian takes the single small individual crests on its back, just as the brother of Prometheus, the 
Titan Atlas, shouldered the Earth. This Titanic impulse to become something like the Atlas of all individuals 
and to bear them on one's wide back, higher and higher, further and further, is the common link between the 
Promethean and the Dionysian. 

In this view, the Aeschylean Prometheus is a Dionysian mask; while, in that previously mentioned deep desire 
for justice Aeschylus betrays to those who understand his paternal descent from Apollo, the god of 
individuation and the limits of justice. And the double nature of the Aeschylean Prometheus, his 
simultaneously Dionysian and Apollonian nature, can be expressed in an understandable way with the 
following words: "Everything present is just and unjust and both aspects are equally justified." 

That is your world! That's what one calls a world! 


It is an incontestable tradition that Greek tragedy in its oldest form had as its subject only the suffering of 
Dionysus and that for a long time later the individually present stage heroes were only Dionysus. But with the 
same certainty we can assert that right up to the time of Euripides Dionysus never ceased being the tragic 
hero, that all the famous figures of the Greek theatre, like Prometheus, Oedipus, and so on, are only masks of 
that primordial hero Dionysus. The fact that behind all these masks stands a divinity, that is the fundamental 
reason for the frequently admired characteristic "ideality" of those well known figures. 

Someone (I don't know who) asserted that all individuals, as individuals, have to be taken as comic and thus 
untragic, that the Greeks in general could not tolerate individuals in their tragic theatre. In fact, they seem to 
have felt this way. That Platonic distinction between and evaluation of the "idea" in contrast to the "idol" in 
connection with likenesses lies deeply grounded in the nature of the Greeks. But for us to make use of Plato's 
terminology, we would have to talk of the tragic figures of the Greek stage in something like the following 
terms: the one truly real Dionysus appears in a multiplicity of shapes, in the mask of a struggling hero and, as 
it were, bound up in the nets of the individual will. So now the god made manifest talks and acts in such a way 
that he looks like an erring, striving, suffering individual. The fact that he appears in general with this epic 
definition and clarity is the effect of Apollo, the interpreter of dreams, who indicates to the chorus its 
Dionysian state by this metaphorical appearance. 

In reality, however, that hero is the suffering Dionysus of the mysteries, that god who experiences the 
suffering of the individual in himself, the god about whom the amazing myths tell how he, as a child, was 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

dismembered by the Titans and now in this condition is venerated as Zagreus. Through this is revealed the 
idea that this dismemberment, the essentially Dionysian suffering, is like a transformation into air, water, 
earth, and fire, that we also have to look upon the condition of individuation as the source and basis for all 
suffering, as something in itself reprehensible. From the laughing of this Dionysus arose the Olympian gods, 
from his tears arose mankind. In that existence as dismembered god Dionysus has the dual nature of a cruelly 
savage daemon and a lenient, gentle master. 

The initiates in the Eleusinian mysteries hoped for a rebirth of Dionysus, which we now can understand as the 
mysterious end of individuation. The initiate's song of jubilation cried out to this approaching third Dionysus. 
And only with this hope was there a ray of joy on the face of the fragmented world, torn apart into individuals, 
just as myth reveals in the picture of the eternal sorrow of sunken Demeter, who rejoices again for the first 
time when someone says to her that she might be able once again to give birth to Dionysus. In these 
established concepts we already have assembled all the components of a profound and pessimistic world view, 
together with the mysterious teachings of tragedy: the basic acknowledgement of the unity of all existing 
things, the idea of individuation as the ultimate foundation of all evil, art as the joyful hope that the spell of 
individuation is there for us to break, as a premonition of a re-established unity. 

It has been pointed out earlier that the Homeric epic is the poetry of Olympian culture, with which it sang its 
own song of victory over the terrors of the fight against the Titans. Now, under the overwhelming influence of 
tragic poetry, the Homeric myths were newly reborn and show in this metamorphosis that by now the 
Olympian culture is overcome by an even deeper world view. The defiant Titan Prometheus reported to his 
Olympian torturer that for the first time his rule was threatened by the highest danger, unless he quickly joined 
forces with him. In Aeschylus we acknowledge the union of the frightened Zeus, worried about the end of his 
power, with the Titan. 

Thus the earlier age of the Titans is belatedly brought back from Tartarus into the light once more. The 
philosophy of wild and naked nature looks with the unconcealed countenance of truth at the myths of the 
Homeric world dancing past it. Before the flashing eyes of this goddess, those myths grow pale and tremble, 
until they press the mighty fist of the Dionysian artist into the service of the new divinity. The Dionysian truth 
takes over the entire realm of myth as the symbol of its knowledge and speaks of this knowledge, partly in the 
public culture of the tragedy and partly in the secret celebrations of the dramatic mystery celebrations, but 
always in the disguise of the old myths. What power was it which liberated Prometheus from his vultures and 
transformed myth to a vehicle of Dionysian wisdom? It was the Herculean power of music. Music, which 
attained its highest manifestation in tragedy, had the power to interpret myth with a new significance in the 
most profound manner, something we have already described before as the most powerful capacity of music. 

For it is the lot of every myth gradually to creep into the crevice of an assumed historical reality and to 
become analyzed as a unique fact in answer to the historical demands of some later time or other. The Greek 
were already fully on their way to labeling cleverly and arbitrarily the completely mythical dreams of their 
youth as historical, pragmatic, and youthful history. For this is the way religions tend to die out, namely, when 
the mythical pre-conditions of a religion, under the strong, rational eyes of an orthodox dogmatism become 
classified as a closed totality of historical events and people begin anxiously to defend the credibility of their 
myths, but to resist the naturally continuing life and growth of those myths, and when the feeling for the myth 
dies out and in its place the claim to put religion on a historical footing steps onto the scene. 

The newly born genius of Dionysian music now seized these dying myths, and in its hands myth blossomed 
again, with colours which it had never shown before, with a scent which stirred up a longing premonition of a 
metaphysical world. After this last flourishing, myth collapsed, its leaves grew pale, and soon the mocking 
Lucians of antiquity grabbed up the flowers, scattered around by all winds, colourless and withered. Through 
tragedy myth attains its most profound content, its most expressive form. It lifts itself up again, like a 
wounded hero, and with the excessive power and wise tranquilly of a dying man, its eyes burn with its last 

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The Birth of Tragedy 
powerful light. 

What did you want, you rascal Euripides, when you sought to force this dying man once more into your 
service? He died under your powerful hands. And now you had to use a counterfeit, masked myth, which was 
able only to dress itself up with the old splendour, like Hercules's monkey. And as myth died with you, so 
died the genius of music as well. Even though you plundered with greedy hands all the gardens of music, you 
achieved only a counterfeit masked music. And because you abandoned Dionysus, you were then abandoned 
by Apollo. Even if you hunted out all the passions from their beds and charmed them into your circle, even 
though you sharpened and filed a really sophisticated dialectic for the speeches of your heroes, nevertheless 
your heroes have only counterfeit, masked passions and speak only a counterfeit, masked language. 


Greek tragedy died in a manner different from all its ancient sister arts: it died by suicide, as a result of an 
insoluble (hence tragic) conflict; whereas, all the others passed away in advanced old age with the most 
beautiful and tranquil deaths. If it is an appropriately happy natural condition to depart from life with beautiful 
descendants and without any painful strains in one's life, the end of those ancient artistic genres manifests to 
us such a fortunate natural state of things. They disappeared slowly, and their more beautiful children were 
already standing there before their dying gaze, impatiently lifting their heads in courageous gestures. By 
contrast, with the death of Greek tragedy there was created an immense emptiness, profoundly felt 
everywhere. Just as the Greek sailors at the time of Tiberius heard from some isolated island the shattering cry 
"The great god Pan is dead," so now, like a painful lament, rang out throughout the Greek world, "Tragedy is 
dead! Poetry itself is lost with it! Away, away with you, you stunted, emaciated epigones! Off with you to 
hell, so you can for once eat your fill of the crumbs from your former masters!" 

If now a new form of art blossomed which paid tribute to tragedy as its predecessor and mistress, it was 
looked upon with fright, because while it carried the characteristics of its mother, they were the same ones she 
had shown in her long death struggle. Tragedy's death struggle was fought by Euripides, and this later art form 
is known as New Attic Comedy. In it the atrophied form of tragedy lived on, as a monument to tragedy's 
extremely laborious and violent death. 

Looking at things this way makes understandable the passionate fondness the poets of the newer comedies felt 
for Euripides. Thus, Philemon's wish (to be hanged immediately so that he could seek out Euripides in the 
underworld, provided only he could be convinced that the dead man was still in possession of his wits) is no 
longer something strange. However, if we ask ourselves to indicate, briefly and without claiming to say 
anything in detail, what Euripides might have in common with Menander and Philemon and what was so 
excitingly exemplary and effective for them in Euripides, it is enough to say that the spectator in Euripides is 
brought up onto the stage. Anyone who recognizes the material out of which the Promethean tragedians 
before Euripides created their heroes and how remote from them was any intention of bringing the true mask 
of reality onto the stage will see clearly the totally deviant tendencies of Euripides. 

As a result of Euripides, the man of ordinary life pushed his way out of the spectators' space and up onto the 
acting area. The mirror in which earlier only great and bold features had been shown now displayed a painful 
fidelity which conscientiously reflected the unsuccessful features of nature. Odysseus, the typical Greek of the 
older art, now sank in the hands of the newer poets into the figure of Graeculus, who from now on stands right 
at the centre of dramatic interest as the good hearted, clever slave. What Euripides in Aristophanes' Frogs 
gives himself credit for as a service, namely, that through his household medicines he freed tragic art of its 
pompous hustle and bustle, that point we can trace above all in his tragic heroes. 

Essentially the spectator now saw and heard his double on the Euripidean stage and was happy that that 
character understood how to talk so well. But this was not the only delight. People themselves learned from 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

Euripides how to speak. He praises himself on this very point in the contest with Aeschylus — how through 
him the people learned to observe in an artistic way, with the keenest sophistication, to judge, and to draw 
consequences. Because of this complete transformation in public language he also made the new comedy 
possible. For from that time on there was nothing mysterious about how ordinary life could appear on stage 
and what language it would use. 

Middle-class mediocrity, on which Euripides built all his political hopes, now came into prominence. Up to 
that point, in tragedy the demi-god and in comedy the intoxicated satyr or semi-human had determined the 
nature of the language. And so the Aristophanic Euripides gave himself high praise for how he presented 
common, well-known, ordinary living and striving, which any person was capable of judging. If now the 
entire crowd philosophized, administered their lands and goods with tremendous astuteness, and carried on 
their own legal matters, well then, he claimed, that was to his credit and the achievement of the wisdom which 
he had drummed into the people. 

The new comedy could now direct its attention to such a prepared and enlightened crowd, for whom Euripides 
became, to some extent, the choir master. Only this time the chorus of spectators had to have practice. As 
soon as the chorus was well trained to sing in the Euripidean musical key, a style of drama like a chess game 
arose, the new comedy, with its continuing triumph of sly shrewdness. But Euripides, the leader of the chorus, 
was incessantly praised. Indeed, people would have let themselves be killed in order to learn more from him, 
if they had not been aware that tragic poets were just as dead as tragedy itself. 

With tragedy the Greeks had surrendered their faith in immortality, not merely the faith in an ideal past, but 
also the faith in an ideal future. The saying from the well-known written epitaph, "as an old man negligent 
and trivial" is applicable also to the old age of Hellenism. The instantaneous, the witty, the foolish, and the 
capricious — these are its loftiest divinities, the fifth state, that of the slave (or at least the feelings of a slave) 
now come to rule. And if it is possible to talk still of a "Greek serenity," it is the serenity of the slave, who has 
no idea how to take responsibility for anything difficult, how to strive for anything great, or how to value 
anything in the past or future higher than the present. 

It was this appearance of "Greek serenity" which so outraged the profound and fearful natures of the first four 
centuries of Christianity. To them this feminine flight from seriousness and terror, this cowardly 
self-satisfaction with comfortable consumption, seemed not only despicable but also the essentially 
anti-Christian frame of mind. And to the influence of this outrage we can ascribe the fact that the view of 
Greek antiquity as a time of rose-coloured serenity lasted for centuries with almost invincible tenacity, as if 
Greek antiquity had never produced a sixth century, with its birth of tragedy, its mystery cults, its Pythagoras 
and Heraclitus, indeed, as if the artistic works of the great age simply did not exist — although these works, 
each and every one of them, cannot be explained at all on the grounds of such a senile joy in existence and 
serenity, moods appropriate to a slave, or of things which testify to a completely different world view as the 
basis of their existence. 

Finally, when it is asserted that Euripides brought the spectator onto the stage in order to make him really 
capable for the first time of judging drama, it may appear as if the older tragic art had not resolved its false 
relationship to the spectator, and people might be tempted to value the radical tendency of Euripides to attain 
an appropriate relationship between the art work and the public as a progressive step beyond Sophocles. 
However, the "public" is only a word and not at all a constant, firm thing of value. Why should an artist be 
duty-bound to accommodate himself to a power whose strength is only in numbers? 

And if, with respect to his talent and intentions, he senses that he is superior to every one of these spectators, 
how could he feel more respect for the common expression of all these capacities inferior to his own than for 
the most highly talented individual spectator. To tell the truth, no Greek artist handled his public over a long 
lifetime with greater daring and self-satisfaction than Euripides. As the masses threw themselves at his feet, 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

he nonetheless, with a sublime act of defiance, threw his own individual attitudes in their faces, those same 
attitudes with which he had conquered the masses. If this genius had had the slightest reverence for the 
pandemonium of the public, he would have broken apart under the cudgel blows of his failures long before the 
middle of his lifetime. 

Taking this into account, we see that our expression — Euripides brought the spectator onto the stage, in order 
to make the spectator capable of making judgments — was only provisional and that we have to seek out a 
deeper understanding of his dramatic tendencies. By contrast, it is well known everywhere how Aeschylus 
and Sophocles during their lifetime and, indeed, well beyond that, stood in full possession of popular favour, 
and thus, given these predecessors of Euripides, there is no point in talking about a misunderstanding between 
the art work and the public. What drove the richly talented artist (Euripides), constantly under the urge to 
create, away from the path above which shone the sun of the greatest poetic names and the cloudless sky of 
popular approval? What curious consideration of the spectator led him to go against the spectator? How could 
he be contemptuous of his public out of a high respect for his public? 

The solution to the riddle posed immediately above is this: Euripides felt himself as a poet higher than the 
masses, but not higher than two of his spectators. He brought the masses up onto the stage. Those two 
spectators he honoured as the only judges capable of rendering a verdict and as the masters of all his art. 
Following their instructions and reminders, he transposed the entire world of feelings, passions, and 
experiences, which up to that point had appeared in the rows of spectators as an invisible chorus in every 
celebratory presentation, into the souls of his stage heroes. Following the demands of these two judges, he 
sought out for his heroes new characters, a new language, and a new tone. In the vote of these two spectators 
alone he heard judgment pronounced on his creation, just as much as he heard encouragement promising 
victory, when he saw himself once again condemned by the justice of the general public. 

The first of these two spectators is Euripides himself, Euripides the thinker, not the poet. Of him we can say 
that the extraordinarily richness of his critical talent, like that of Lessing, constantly stimulated, even if it did 
not create, an additional productive artistic drive. With this talent, with all the clarity and agility of his critical 
thinking, Euripides sat in the theatre and struggled to recognize the masterpieces of his great predecessors, as 
with a painting darkened by age, feature by feature, line by line. And here he encountered something familiar 
to those who know the profound secrets of Aeschylean tragedy: he became aware of something 
incommensurable in each feature and in each line, a certain deceptive clarity and, at the same time, an 
enigmatic depth, the infinity of the background. 

The clearest figure still always had a comet's tail attached to it, which seemed to hint at the unknown, the 
inexplicable. The same duality lay over the construction of the drama, as well as over the meaning of the 
chorus. And how ambiguously the solution of the ethical problems remained for him. How questionable the 
handling of the myths! How unequal the division of luck and disaster! Even in the language of the old 
tragedies there was a great deal he found offensive or, at least, enigmatic. He especially found too much pomp 
and circumstance for simple relationships, too many figures of speech and monstrosities for the 
straightforward characters. So he sat there in the theatre, full of uneasy thoughts, and, as a spectator, he came 
to realize that he did not understand his great predecessors. Since his reason counted for him as the root of all 
enjoyment and creativity, he had to ask himself and look around to see if there was anyone who thought the 
way he did and could in the same way attest to that incommensurability of the old drama. 

But the public, including the best individuals among them, met him only with a suspicious smile. No one 
could explain to him why his reflections about and objections to the great masters might be correct. And in 
this agonizing condition he found the other spectator, who did not understand tragedy and therefore did not 
value it. United with him, Euripides could dare to begin emerging from his isolation to fight the immense 
battle against the art works of Aeschylus and Sophocles — not with critical writings, but as a dramatic poet, 
who sets up the presentation of his tragedy in opposition to the tradition. 

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Before we designate this other spectator by name, let's linger here a moment to reconsider that characteristic 
duality and incommensurability at the heart of Aeschylean tragedy (something we described earlier). Let us 
think about how strange we find the chorus and the hero of those tragedies, which were not able to reconcile 
with what we are used to or with our traditions, until we recognized that duality itself as the origin and 
essence of Greek tragedy, as the expression of two artistic drives woven together, the Apollonian and the 

To cut that primordial and all-powerful Dionysian element out of tragedy and to rebuild tragedy as a pure, 
new, and un-Dionysian art, morality, and world view — that has now revealed itself to us very clearly as the 
tendency of Euripides. Near the end of his life, Euripides himself propounded as emphatically as possible the 
question about the value and meaning of this tendency in a myth to his contemporaries. Should the Dionysian 
exist at all? Should we not eradicate it forcefully from Greek soil? Of course we should, the poet says to us, if 
only it were possible, but the god Dionysus is too powerful. The most intelligent opponent, like Pentheus in 
the Bacchae, is unexpectedly charmed by Dionysus and runs from him in this enchanted state to his 

The judgment of the two old men, Cadmus and Tiresias, seems also to be the judgment of the aged poet: the 
mind of the cleverest individual does not throw away that old folk tradition, that eternally propagating 
reverence for Dionysus; indeed, where such amazing powers are concerned, it is appropriate at least to 
demonstrate a diplomatically prudent show of joining in. But even with that, the god might still possibly take 
offense at such a lukewarm participation and transform the diplomat finally into a dragon (as happens here 
with Cadmus). 

The poet tells us this, a poet who fought throughout his long life against Dionysus with heroic force, only to 
conclude his life finally with a glorification of his opponent and a suicide, like a man suffering from vertigo 
who, in order to escape the dreadful dizziness, which he can no longer endure, throws himself off a tower. 
That tragedy is a protest against the practicality of his artistic program, and that program had already 
succeeded! A miracle had taken place: just when the poet recanted, his program was already victorious. 
Dionysus had already been chased off the tragic stage, and by a daemonic power speaking out from Euripides. 
But Euripides was, to some extent, only a mask. The divinity which spoke out of him was not Dionysus, and 
not Apollo, but an entirely new-born daemon called Socrates. 

This is the new opposition: the Dionysian and the Socratic. And from this contrast, Greek tragedy perished as 
a work of art. No matter now how much Euripides might seek to console us with his retraction, he was 
unsuccessful. The most magnificent temple lay in ruins. What use to us are the laments of the destroyer and 
his awareness that it had been the most beautiful of all temples? And even if Euripides himself, as a 
punishment, has been turned into a dragon by the artistic critics of all ages, who can be satisfied with this 
paltry compensation? 

Let's get closer now to this Socratic project, with which Euripides fought against and conquered Aeschylean 

What purpose (that's the question we need to ask at this point) could Euripides' intention to ground drama 
solely on the un-Dionysian have had, if we assume its implementation had the very highest ideals? What 
form of drama remained, if it was not to be born from the womb of music, in that mysterious half-light of the 
Dionysian? All it could be was dramatic epic, an Apollonian art form in which the tragical effect is naturally 

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This is not a matter of the content of the represented events. I might even assert that in Goethe's proposed 
Nausikaa it would have been impossible to make the suicide of that idyllic being (which was to be carried out 
in the fifth act) grippingly tragic, for the power of the Apollonian epic is so extraordinary that it magically 
transforms the most horrific things through that joy in and redemption through appearances right before our 
very eyes. The poet of the dramatic epic cannot completely fuse with his pictures, any more than the epic 
rhapsodist can. It is always a matter of still calm, tranquil contemplation with open eyes, a state which sees the 
images in front of it. The actor in this dramatic epic remains, in the most profound sense, still a rhapsodist; the 
consecration of the inner dream lies upon all his actions, so that he is never completely an actor. 

How is Euripides' work related with respect to this ideal of Apollonian drama? It is just like the relationship of 
the solemn rhapsodist of the olden times to the younger attitude, whose nature is described in Plato's Ion: 
"When I say something sad, my eyes fill with tears. But if what I say is horrifying and terrible, then the hairs 
on my head stand on end from fright, and my heart knocks." Here we do not see any more the epic dissolution 
of the self in appearances, the disinterested coolness of the real actor, who remain, even in his highest 
achievements, totally appearance and delight in appearances. Euripides is the actor with the beating heart, 
with his hair standing on end. He designs his work as a Socratic thinker, and he carries it out as a passionate 

Euripides is a pure artist neither in planning his work nor in carrying it out. Thus the Euripidean drama is 
simultaneously a cool and fiery thing, equally capable of freezing or burning. It is impossible for it to attain 
the Apollonian effect of the epic, while, on the other hand, it has divorced itself as much as possible from the 
Dionysian elements, and now, in order to work at all, it needs new ways to arouse people, methods which can 
no longer lie within either of the two individual artistic drives of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. These 
method of arousing people are detached paradoxical ideas, substituted for Apollonian objects of 
contemplation, and fiery emotional effects, substituted for Dionysian enchantment. The fiery effects are, to be 
sure, imitated with a high degree of realism, but the ideas and emotional effects are not in the slightest way 
imbued with the spirit of art. 

If we have now recognized that Euripides did not succeed in basing his drama solely on Apollonian principles, 
that his un-Dionysian tendencies much rather led him astray into an inartistic naturalism, we are now able to 
move closer to the essential quality of his Socratic aesthetics, whose most important law runs something like 
this: "Everything must be understandable in order to be beautiful," a corollary to the Socratic saying, "Only 
the knowledgeable person is virtuous." With this canon at hand, Euripides measured all the individual features 
and justified them according to this principle: the language, characters, dramatic construction, the choral 

What we habitually assess so frequently in Euripides, in comparison with Sophoclean tragedy, as a poetical 
deficiency and a backward step is for the most part the product of his emphatic critical process, his daring 
intelligence. Let the Euripi dean prologue serve as an example of what that rationalistic method produces. 
Nothing can be more offensive to our stage techniques than the prologue in Euripides's plays. That a single 
person should step forward at the beginning of a work and explain who he is, what has gone on before the 
action starts, what has happened up to this point, and even what will occur in the unfolding of the work, that 
would strike a modern poetical dramatist as a wanton, inexcusable abandonment of all the effects of suspense. 
If we know everything which is going to happen, who will want to sit around waiting to see that it really does 
happen? For here there is nothing like the stimulating relationship between a prophetic dream and a later real 
event. Euripides thought quite differently about the matter. 

The effect of tragedy never depends on epic suspense, on the tempting uncertainty about what will happen 
now and later. It depends far more on those great rhetorical-lyrical scenes in which the passion and dialectic 
of the main hero swelled up into a wide and powerful storm. Everything was preparing for pathos, not for 
action. What did not prepare the way for paths was considered disposable. But what hinders most seriously 

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the listener's delighted devotion to such scenes is any missing part, any gap in the network of the previous 
events. As long as the listener still has to figure out what this or that person means, what gives rise to this or 
that conflict in motives or purposes, then his full immersion in the suffering and action of the main character, 
his breathless sympathy with and fear for them are not possible. The Aeschylean-Sophoclean tragedies made 
use of the most elegant artistic methods in the opening scenes to provide the spectators, as if by chance, all the 
necessary clues to understand everything, a technique in which their noble artistry proves its worth by 
allowing the necessary features to appear, but, so to speak, as something masked and accidental. 

But Euripides still believed he noticed that during these first scenes the spectator was oddly disturbed having 
to figure out the simple arithmetic of the previous events so that the poetical beauties and the pathos of the 
exposition was lost on him. Therefore Euripides set up the prologue even before the exposition and put it in 
the mouth of a person whom people could trust — a divinity would necessarily confirm the outcome of the 
tragedy for the public, more or less, and take away any doubts about the reality of the myth, in a manner 
similar to the way in which Descartes could establish the reality of the empirical world through an appeal to 
the truthfulness of God and his inability to lie. At the end of his drama, Euripides once again made use of this 
same divine truthfulness in order to confirm his hero's future for the public. That is the task of the notorious 
deus ex machina. Between the epic prologue and epilogue lay the lyrical, dramatic present, the essential 

So Euripides as a poet is, above all, the echo of his conscious knowledge, and it is precisely this which confers 
upon him such a memorable place in the history of Greek art. 

In view of his critically productive creativity it must have often struck him that he must be bringing alive in 
drama the opening of Anaxagoras's text, the first lines of which go as follows: "In the beginning everything 
was a confused mixture, but then came reason and created order." And if, among philosophers, Anaxagoras, 
with his concept of mind, seems to be the first sober man among total drunkards, so Euripides might have 
conceptualized his relationship to the other poets with a similar image. So long as the single creator of order 
and ruler of all, the mind, was still excluded from artistic creativity, everything was still mixed up in a chaotic 
primordial pudding. That's how Euripides must have thought about it; that's how he, the first "sober" poet 
must have passed sentence on the "drunken" poets. 

What Sophocles said about Aeschylus — that he does what's right, without being aware of it — was certainly 
not said in any Euripidean sense. Euripides would have conceded only that Aeschylus created improperly 
because he created without any conscious awareness. Even the god-like Plato speaks of the creative 
capability of poets and how this is not a conscious understanding, but for the most part only ironically, and he 
draws a comparison with the talent of prophets and dream interpreters, for the poet is not able to write until he 
has lost his conscious mind and reason no longer resides in him. Euripides undertook the task (which Plato 
also took on) to show the world the opposite of the "irrational" poet. His basic aesthetic principle, "everything 
must be conscious in order to be beautiful," is, as I have said, the corollary to the Socratic saying, "Everything 
must be conscious in order to be good." 

With this in mind, it is permissible for us to assess Euripides as the poet of Socratic aesthetics. Socrates, 
however, was that second spectator, who did not understand the old tragedy and therefore did not value it. 
With Socrates as his ally, Euripides dared to be the herald of a new artistic creativity. If old tragedy perished 
in this development, then Socratic aesthetics is the murdering principle. Insofar as the fight was directed 
against the Dionysian of the older art, we recognize in Socrates the enemy of Dionysus, the new Orpheus, 
who roused himself against Dionysus, and who, although destined to be torn apart by the maenads of the 
Athenian Court of Justice, nevertheless himself made the powerful god fly away. Dionysus, as before, when 
he fled from Lycurgus, King of the Edoni, saved himself in the depths of the sea, that is, in the mysterious 
floods of a secret cult which would gradually overrun the entire world. 

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That Socrates had a close relationship to Euripides' project did not escape their contemporaries in ancient 
times, and the clearest expression for this happy intuition is the rumour floating around Athens that Socrates 
was in the habit of helping Euripides with his poetry. Both names were invoked by the supporters of the 
"good old days" when it was time to list the present popular leaders whose influence had brought about a 
situation in which the old strength of mind and body manifested at the Battle of Marathon was being 
increasingly sacrificed for a dubious way of explaining things, in a continuing erosion of the physical and 
mental powers. 

This was the tone — half indignation, half contempt — in which Aristophanic comedy habitually talked of these 
men, to the irritation of the newer generations, who, although happy enough to betray Euripides, were always 
totally amazed that Socrates appeared in Aristophanes as the first and most important sophist, the mirror and 
essence of all sophistic ambitions. As a result, they took consolation in putting Aristophanes himself in the 
stocks as an impudent lying Alcibiades of poetry. Without here defending the profound instinct of 
Aristophanes against such attacks, I will proceed to demonstrate the close interrelationship between Socrates 
and Euripides as the ancients saw it.. It's particularly important to remember in this connection that Socrates, 
as an opponent of tragic art, never attended the performance of a tragedy, and only joined the spectators when 
a new piece by Euripides was being produced. The best known connection, however, is the close juxtaposition 
of both names in the oracular pronouncements of the Delphic Oracle, which indicated that Socrates was the 
wisest of men and at the same time delivered the judgment that Euripides captured second prize in the contest 
for wisdom. 

Sophocles was the third person named in this hierarchy, the man who could praise himself in comparison with 
Aeschylus by saying that he (Sophocles) did what was right because he knew what was right. Obviously the 
degree of clarity in these men's knowledge was the factor that designated them collectively as the three "wise 
men" of their time. 

But the most pointed statement about this new and unheard of high opinion of knowledge and reason was 
uttered by Socrates, when he claimed that he was the only person to assert that he knew nothing; whereas, in 
his critical wandering about in Athens conversing with the greatest statesmen, orators, poets, and artists, 
everywhere he ran into people who imagined they knew things. Astonished, he recognized that all these 
famous people had no correct and clear insight into their occupations and carried out their work instinctually. 
"Only from instinct" — with this expression we touch upon the heart and centre of the Socratic project. 

With this expression Socratic thought condemns existing art as well as contemporary ethics. Wherever he 
directs his searching gaze, he sees a lack of insight and the power of delusion, and from this he infers the inner 
falsity and worthlessness of present conditions. On the basis of this one point, Socrates believed he had to 
correct existence. He, one solitary individual, stepped forward with an expression of contempt and superiority, 
as the pioneer of a brand new style of culture, art, and morality, into that world, a scrap of which we would 
count it an honour to catch. 

That is the immensely disturbing thing which grips us about Socrates whenever we run into him and which 
over and over again always stimulates us to find out the meaning and intention of this man, the most 
problematic figure of ancient times. Who is the man who can dare, as an individual, to deny the very essence 
of Greece, which with Homer, Pindar, Aeschylus, Phidias, Pericles, Pythia, and Dionysus is certainly worthy 
of our highest veneration? What daemonic force is it that could dare to sprinkle this magic drink into the dust? 
What demi-god is it to whom the ghostly chorus of the noblest specimens of humanity had to cry out: "Alas, 
alas! You have destroyed our beautiful world with your mighty fist. It is collapsing, falling to pieces!" 

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A key to the heart of Socrates is offered by that amazing phenomenon indicated by the term Socrates's 
daimonon. Under special circumstances in which his immense reasoning power was stalled in doubt, he 
resolved his irresolution firmly with a divine voice which expressed itself at such times. When this voice 
came, it always sounded a cautionary note. In this totally strange character instinctive wisdom reveals itself 
only in order to confront the conscious knowledge now and then as an impediment. Whereas in all productive 
men instinct is the truly creative and affirming power, and consciousness acts as a critical and cautioning 
reaction, in Socrates the instinct becomes the critic, consciousness becomes the creator — truly a monstrous 

Now, we see here a grotesque defect in mythical consciousness, so that Socrates can be considered 
specifically a non-mystic man in whom the logical character has become too massive through excessive use, 
just like instinctive wisdom in the mystic. On the other hand, it was impossible for that logical drive, as it 
appeared in Socrates, to turn against itself. In its unfettered rush it demonstrates a natural power of the sort we 
meet, to our shuddering surprise, only in the very greatest instinctive powers. Anyone who has sensed in the 
Platonic texts the merest scent of the god-like naivete and confidence in the direction of Socrates's teaching 
has also felt how that immense drive wheel of Socratic logic is, at it were, in motion behind Socrates and how 
we have to see this behind Socrates, as if we were looking through a shadow. 

That he himself had a premonition of this relationship comes out in the dignified seriousness with which he 
assessed his divine calling everywhere, even before his judges. To censure him for this is as impossible as it is 
to approve of his influence on the removal of instinct. When Socrates was hauled before the assembly of the 
Greek state, there was only one form of sentence for this irreconcilable conflict, namely, banishment. People 
should have expelled him beyond the borders as something enigmatic, unclassifiable, and inexplicable, so that 
some future world could not justly charge the Athenians with acting shamefully. 

The fact that death and not exile was pronounced over him Socrates himself appears to have brought about, 
fully clear about what he was doing and without the natural horror of death. He went to his death with the 
same tranquility Plato describes him showing as he leaves the Symposium, the last drinker in the early light of 
dawn, beginning a new day, while behind him, on the benches and the ground, his sleeping dinner 
companions stay behind, to dream of Socrates the truly erotic man. The dying Socrates was the new ideal of 
the noble Greek youth, never seen before. Right in the vanguard, the typical Greek youth, Plato, prostrated 
himself before Socrates's picture with all the fervent adoration of his passionately enthusiastic soul. 


Let's now imagine that one great Cyclops eye of Socrates focused on tragedy, that eye in which the beautiful 
madness of artistic enthusiasm never glowed — let's imagine how it was impossible for that eye to peer into the 
Dionysian abyss with a feeling of pleasure. Then what must that eye have seen in the "lofty and highly 
praised" tragic art, as Plato calls it? Something really unreasonable, with causes without effects, actions which 
apparently had no causes, and as a whole so varied and with so many different elements that any reasonable 
person had to reject it, but dangerous tinder for sensitive and easily excitable minds. We know which single 
form of poetry Socrates understood: Aesop's fables. And no doubt his reaction involved that smiling 
complacency with which the noble and good Gellert in his fable of the bee and the hen sings the praises of 

You see in me the use of poetry — 
To tell the man without much sense 
A picture image of the truth of things. 

But for Socrates tragic art did not seem "to speak the truth" at all, apart from the fact that it did address itself 
to those "without much sense," and thus not to philosophers, a double excuse to keep one's distance from it. 

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Like Plato, he assigned it to the art of cosmetics, which present only a pleasant surface, not the useful, and he 
therefore demanded that his disciples abstain and stay away from such unphilosophical temptations, with so 
much success that the young poet of tragedy, Plato, immediately burned his poetical writing in order to be 
able to become Socrates's student. But where invincible talents fought against the Socratic instructions, his 
power, together with the force of his immense personality, was always still strong enough to force poetry 
itself into new attitudes, unknown up until then. 

An example of this is Plato himself. To be sure, in his condemnation of tragedy and art in general he did not 
remain back behind the naive cynicism of his master. But completely from artistic necessity he had to create 
an art form related directly to the existing art forms which he had rejected. The major criticism which Plato 
made about the old art — that it was the imitation of an illusion and thus belonged to a lower level than the 
empirical world — must above all not be directed against his new work of art. And so we see Plato exerting 
himself to go beyond reality and to present the Idea which forms basis of that pseudo-reality. 

With that, however, the thinker Plato reached by a detour the very place where, as a poet, he had always been 
at home and from where Sophocles and all the old art was protesting against Plato's criticism. If tragedy had 
assimilated all earlier forms of art, so the same holds true, in an odd way, for Plato's dialogues, which were 
created from a mixture of all available styles and forms and hover between explanation, lyric, drama, prose 
and poetry, right in the middle, and in so doing broke through the strict old law about the unity of stylistic 
form. The Cynic philosophers went even further along the same path. With their excessively garish and 
motley collection of styles, weaving back and forth between prose and metrical forms, they produced the 
literary image of "raving Socrates," which they were in the habit of presenting in their own lives. 

The Platonic dialogue was, so to speak, the boat on which the shipwreck of the old poetry, along with all its 
children, was saved. Pushed together into a single narrow space and with an anxious Socrates at the helm they 
humbly set off now into a new world, which never could see enough fantastic images of this event. Plato 
really gave all later worlds the image of a new form of art, the image of the novel, which can be characterized 
as an infinitely intensified Aesopian fable, in which the relative priorities of poetry and dialectical philosophy 
were the same as the relative priorities of that very philosophy and theology for many hundreds of years. 
Poetry, in other words, was subservient. This was poetry's new position, the place into which Plato forced it 
under the influence of the daemonic Socrates. 

Now philosophical ideas grew up around art and forced it to cling to the trunk of dialectic. Apollonian 
tendencies metamorphosed into logical systematizing, something corresponding to what we noticed with 
Euripides, as well as a translation of the Dionysian into naturalistic effects. Socrates, the dialectical hero in 
Platonic drama, reminds us of the changed nature of the Euripidean hero, who has to defend his actions with 
reasons and counter-reasons and thus frequently runs the risk of losing our tragic sympathy. For who can fail 
to recognize the optimistic element in the heart of dialectic, which celebrates a jubilee with every conclusion 
and can breathe only in a cool conscious brightness, that optimistic element, which, once pushed into tragedy, 
gradually overruns its Dionysian regions and necessarily drives them to self-destruction, right to their death 
leap into middle-class drama. 

Let people merely recall the consequences of the Socratic sayings "Virtue is knowledge; sin arises only from 
ignorance; the virtuous person is the happy person." In these three basic forms of optimism lies the death of 
tragedy. For now the virtuous hero must be a dialectician. Now there must be a perceptible link between virtue 
and knowledge, belief and morality. Now the transcendental vision of justice in Aeschylus is lowered to the 
flat and impertinent principle of "poetical justice" with its customary deus ex machina. 

What does this new Socratic optimistic stage world look like with respect to the chorus and the whole 
musical-Dionysian basis for tragedy in general? All that seem to be something accidental, a reminder of the 
origin of tragedy which we can well do without, because we have come to realize that the chorus can be 

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understood only as the origin of tragedy and the tragic in general. Already in Sophocles the chorus reveals 
itself as something of an embarrassment, an important indication that even with him the Dionysian stage of 
tragedy was beginning to fall apart. He did not dare to trust the Chorus to carry the major share of the action, 
but limited its role to such an extent that it appears almost as one of the actors, just as if it had been lifted out 
of the orchestra into the scene. This feature naturally destroys its nature completely, no matter how much 
Aristotle approved of this arrangement of the chorus. 

This demotion in the position of the chorus, which Sophocles certainly recommended in his dramatic practice 
and, according to tradition, even in a written text, is the first step toward the destruction of the chorus, whose 
phases in Euripides, Agathon, and the New Comedy followed with breakneck speed one after the other. 
Optimistic dialectic, with its syllogistic whip, drove music out of tragedy, that is, it destroyed the essence of 
tragedy, which can be interpreted only as a manifestation and imaginary presentation of Dionysian states, as a 
perceptible symbolizing of music, as the dream world of a Dionysian intoxication. 

We have noticed an anti-Dionysian tendency already effective before Socrates, which only achieves in him 
an expression of incredible brilliance. Now we must not shrink back from the question of where such a 
phenomenon as Socrates points. For we are not in a position, given the Platonic dialogues, to see that 
phenomenon as a force of totally negative dissolution. And so, while it's true that the immediate effect of the 
Socratic drive was to bring about the destruction of Dionysian tragedy, the profound living experiences of 
Socrates himself force us to the question whether or not there must necessarily be only an antithetical 
relationship between Socrates's doctrines and art and whether the birth of an "artistic Socrates" is in general 
something of a contradiction. 

Where culture is concerned, that despotic logician now and then had the feeling of a gap, an emptiness, a 
partial sense of reproach for a duty he might have neglected. As he explains to his friends in prison, often one 
and the same dream apparition came to him, always with the words, "Socrates, practise music!" He calmed 
himself, right up to his last days, with the interpretation that his philosophizing was the highest musical art, 
and believed that it was incorrect that a divinity would remind him of "common, popular music." Finally in 
prison he came to understand how, in order to relieve his conscience completely, to practice that music which 
he had considered insignificant. And in this mood, he composed a poem to Apollo and rendered a few of 
Aesop's fables in verse. 

What drove him to this practice was something like the voice of his warning daemon. It was his Apollonian 
insight that, like a barbarian king, he did not understand a divine image and was in danger of sinning against a 
divinity through his failure to understand. That statement of Socrates's dream vision is the single indication of 
his thinking about something perhaps beyond the borders of his logical nature. So he had to ask himself: Have 
I always labeled unintelligible things I could not understand? Perhaps there is a kingdom of wisdom which is 
forbidden to the logician? Perhaps art is even a necessary correlative and supplement to scientific 


In the sense of this last ominous question we must how discuss how the influence of Socrates has spread out 
over later worlds, right up to the present and even into all future ages, like a constantly growing shadow in the 
evening sun, and how that influence always makes necessary the re-creation of art (I mean art in its most 
profound and widest metaphysical sense) and through its own immortality guarantees the immortality of art. 
For this fact to be acknowledged, before it was established that all art inherently depended on the Greeks, 
from Homer right up to Socrates, we had to deal with these Greeks as the Athenians dealt with Socrates. 
Almost every age and cultural stage has at some time or another sought in an ill-tempered frame of mind to 
free itself of the Greeks, because in comparison with the Greeks, all their achievements, apparently fully 
original and admired in all sincerity, suddenly appeared to lose their colour and life and were reduced to 

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The Birth of Tragedy 
unsuccessful copies, even caricatures. 

And so a heartfelt inner anger constantly kept breaking out against that arrogant little nation which dared 
throughout time to define everything that was not produced in its own country as "barbaric" Who were these 
Greeks, people asked themselves, who had achieved only an ephemeral historical glitter, only ridiculously 
restricted institutions, only an ambiguous competence in morality, who could even be identified with hateful 
vices, yet who had nevertheless taken a pre-eminent place among nations for their value and special 
importance, something fitted for a genius among the masses? Unfortunately people were not lucky enough to 
find the cup of hemlock which can do away with such a being, for all the poisons they created — envy, slander, 
and inner anger — were insufficient to destroy that self-satisfied magnificence. 

Hence, confronted by the Greeks, people have been ashamed and afraid. It seems that an individual who 
values the truth above everything else might dare to propose as true the notion that the Greeks drive the 
chariot of our culture and every other one, but that almost always the wagon and the horses are inferior 
material and cannot match the glory of their drivers, who then consider it funny to whip such a team into the 
abyss, over which they themselves jump with a leap worthy of Achilles. 

To demonstrate that Socrates also merits such a place among the drivers of the chariot, it is sufficient to 
recognize him as typifying a form of existence inconceivable before him, the type known as Theoretical Man. 
Our next task is to reach some insight about the meaning and purpose of such a man. The theoretical man, like 
the artist, takes an infinite satisfaction in the present and is, like the artist, protected by that satisfaction from 
the practical effects of pessimism with its lynx eyes which glow only in the darkness. But while the artist, in 
his revelation of the truth, always keeps his enchanted gaze hanging on what still remains hidden after his 
revelation, theoretical man enjoys and remains satisfied with the covers which have been thrown off and takes 
his greatest delight in the process of continually successful unveiling, a success which his own power has 
brought about. 

There would be no scientific knowledge if it concerned itself only with that one naked goddess and had 
nothing else to do. For then its disciples would have to feel like those people who want to dig a hole straight 
through the earth, and one among them sees that, even with the greatest lifelong effort, he is in a position to 
dig through only a really small piece of the immense depths, and that piece will be covered over in front of his 
very eyes by the work of the person next to him, so that a third person would apparently do well to select a 
new place for the tunneling efforts he undertakes on his own initiative. 

Now, if one person convincingly demonstrates that it is impossible to reach the antipodes by this direct route, 
who will want to continue to work on in the old depths, unless there was a possibility in the meantime that he 
would be happy finding some valuable rock or discovering some natural law? For that reason, Lessing, the 
most noble theoretical man, dared to state that for him the search for the truth counted for more than truth 
itself. That statement unmasks the fundamental secret of scientific knowledge, to the astonishment, even the 
anger, of scientists. Now, of course, alongside this single recognition, excessively truthful and brave, stands a 
profound but delusive image, which first came into the world in the person of Socrates, that unshakeable faith 
that thinking, guided by the idea of causality, might reach into the deepest abyss of being, and that thinking is 
capable of, not just understanding being, but even correcting it. This lofty metaphysical delusion is inherent in 
scientific research and leads it over and over again to its limits, at which point it must turn itself into art, 
something which is really predictable in this mechanical process. 

With the torch of this idea, let's look at Socrates. To us he appears as the first person who was capable not 
only of living under the guidance of this scientific instinct, but also of dying under it (something much more 
difficult). Therefore the picture of the dying Socrates as a man raised above fear of death by knowledge and 
reason is the emblazoned shield hanging over the entranceway to scientific research, reminding every 
individual of his purpose, namely, to make existence intelligible and thus apparently justified. Of course, 

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when reasoning cannot succeed in this endeavour, myth must finally serve, something which I have just noted 
as the necessary consequence, indeed, even the purpose of, science. 

Anyone who clearly sees how, after Socrates, that mystagogue of knowledge, one philosophical school after 
another, like wave after wave, arose in turn, and how an unimaginable universal greed for knowledge through 
the full extent of the educated world steered knowledge around on the high seas as the essential task for every 
person of greater capabilities, a greed which it has been impossible since then completely to expel from 
scientific knowledge, and how through this universal greed a common net of thinking was cast over the entire 
earth for the first time (with even glimpses of the rule-bound workings of an entire solar system) — whoever 
reminds himself of all this, together with that astonishingly high pyramid of contemporary knowledge, cannot 
deny that in Socrates we see a turning point and vortex of so-called world history. 

Imagine for a moment the following scenario: if the incalculable sum of all the energy which has been used in 
pursuit of this world project is spent not in the service of knowledge but on the practical (i.e., egotistical) aims 
of individuals and peoples, then in all probability the instinctive delight in living would be so weakened in 
universal wars of destruction and continuing migrations of people that, with suicide being a common 
occurrence, the individual, perhaps out of a sense of duty, would have to see death as a final rest and, like the 
inhabitants of the Fiji Islands, the son would strangle his parents, the friend would strangle his friend. A 
practical pessimism, which could give rise to a dreadful ethic of mass murder out of sympathy, such a belief is 
present and was present all over the world, wherever art did not appear in some form or other, especially in 
religion and science, as a remedy and a defense against that pestilence. 

With respect to this practical pessimism, Socrates is the original picture of the theoretical optimist, who in the 
belief (which I have described) that we could discover the nature of things conferred upon knowing and 
discovering the power of a universal medicine and understood evil-in-itself as error. To push forward with 
that reasoning and to separate true knowledge from appearance and error seem to the Socratic man to be the 
noblest, even the single truly human vocation, just as that mechanism of ideas, judgments, and conclusions 
has been valued, from Socrates on, as the highest activity and the most admirable gift of nature, above all 
other faculties. Even the noblest moral deeds, the sympathetic emotions, self-sacrifice, heroism and that 
calmness in the soul (so difficult to attain), which the Apollonian Greeks called sophrosyne — all these were 
derived by Socrates and his like-minded descendants right up to the present from the dialectic of knowledge 
and therefore described as teachable. 

Whoever has experienced the delight of a Socratic discovery and feels how this, in ever-widening rings, seeks 
to enclose the entire world of phenomena, will experience no spur capable of pushing him into existence more 
intense than the desire to complete that conquest and to weave a solid impenetrable net. To a man so minded, 
the Platonic Socrates appears as the teacher of an entirely new form of "Greek serenity" and of a blissful 
existence which seeks to discharge itself in actions. And these actions will consist, for the most part, like those 
of a mid-wife, of things concerned with the education of noble disciples, in order to produce an endless 
supply of geniuses. 

But now science, incited by its powerful delusion, speeds on inexorably right to its limits, at which point the 
optimism hidden in the essence of logic fails. For the circumference of the circle of science has an infinity of 
points, and while it is still impossible to see how that circumference could ever be completely measured, 
nevertheless the noble, talented man, before the middle of his life, inevitably comes up against some border 
point on that circumference, where he stares at something which cannot be illuminated. When, at this point, he 
sees to his horror how logic turns around on itself and finally bites its own tail, then a new form of knowledge 
breaks through, the acknowledgement of the tragic, which in order merely to be endured, requires art as a 
protector and healer. 

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If we look at the loftiest realms of the world streaming around us, our eyes strengthened and refreshed by the 
Greeks, we become aware of that greed of insatiably optimistic knowledge (which Socrates previews for us) 
turning into tragic resignation and a need for art, even if it's true that this same greed, in its lower levels, must 
express itself as hostile to art and must especially loathe Dionysian tragic art, as I have already explained in 
the example of the conflict between Aeschylean tragedy and Socratic doctrine. 

Here we are now knocking, with turbulent feelings, on the door of the present and future: Will that 
transformation lead to continuously new configurations of genius and straight to the music-playing Socrates? 
Will that wide net of art, whether in the name of religion or of science, fly over existence always more tightly 
and delicately, or is it determined that it will be ripped to shreds by the restless barbaric impulses and 
hurly-burly which we now call "the present." We are standing here on the sidelines as lookers on, worried but 
not without hope, for we are being permitted to witness that immense struggle and transition. Ah, but there is 
a magic spell in these battles: whoever looks at them must also fight them! 


By setting out this historical example, we have attempted to clarify how tragedy surely dies away with the 
disappearance of the spirit of music, since tragedy can arise only out of this spirit. To mitigate the strangeness 
of this claim and, on the other hand, to indicate the origin of this idea of ours, we must now openly face up to 
analogous phenomena of the present time. We must stride right into the midst of those battles which, as I have 
just said, are being waged in the loftiest spheres of our present world between the insatiably optimistic desire 
to know and the artistic need for tragedy. 

In this discussion, I shall omit all the other opposing drives which have in every age worked against art 
(especially against tragedy) and which at present have taken hold to such an extent that, for example, in the art 
of the theatre, only farces and ballets achieve a fairly rich profit with their fragrant blooms, which are perhaps 
not for everyone. I shall speak only of the most illustrious opposition to the tragic world view: by that I mean 
research scholarship, optimistic to the core of its being, with its father Socrates perched on the pinnacle. 
Shortly I shall also indicate by name the forces which seem to me to guarantee a new birth of tragedy and who 
knows what other blessed hopes for the German character! 

Before we leap into the middle of this battle, let us wrap ourselves in the armour of the knowledge we seized 
upon earlier. In opposition to all those eager to derive art from a single principle as the necessary living origin 
of every work of art, I keep my eyes fixed on both those artistic divinities of the Greeks, Apollo and 
Dionysus, and recognize in them the living and clear representatives of two art worlds, very different in their 
deepest being and their highest goals. Apollo stands before me as the transfigured genius of the principium 
individuationis [the individualizing principle], through which release is only to be truly attained in illusion. 
However, under the mystical joyous cries of Dionysus, the spell of individuation shatters and the way lies 
open to the maternal source of being, to the innermost core of things. 

This tremendous difference, which opens up a yawning gap between plastic art as Apollonian and music as 
Dionysian art became more or less obvious to only one great thinker, when he, without any prompting from 
the symbolism of the Greek gods, recognized the different character of music and the origin of all other arts 
from it, because music is not, like all the others art forms, images of appearances, but an immediate reflection 
of the will itself, and also because it presents itself as the metaphysical counterpart to all physical things in the 
world, the thing-in-itself as counterpart to all appearances (Schopenhauer, World as Will and Idea, I, p. 310). 

On the basis of this most significant way of understanding all aesthetics, which, taken seriously, marks the 
first beginning of aesthetics, Richard Wagner, to confirm its lasting truth, set his stamp, when he established 
in his Beethoven that music must be assessed on aesthetic principles entirely different from those for all fine 
arts and not at all according to the category of beauty, although an erroneous aesthetics, in the service of a 

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misleading and degenerate art, has become accustomed to the idea of beauty asserting itself in the world of 
images and to demand from music an effect similar to the effect of plastic arts, namely, the arousal of 
satisfaction in beautiful forms. 

After my recognition of that tremendous opposition, I sensed in myself a strong urge to approach the essence 
of Greek tragedy and, in so doing, the deepest insight into the Hellenic genius. Now for the first time I 
believed I was capable of the magical task of posing the basic problem of tragedy in my own mind, over and 
above the jargon of our customary aesthetics. Through that, such an strange idiosyncratic glimpse into the 
Hellenic was granted to me that it had to appear to me as if our classical-Hellenistic scholarship (which is so 
proud of itself) had up to this point known, for the most part, only how to gloat over games with shadows and 

We may be able perhaps to touch on this original problem with the following question: What aesthetic effect 
arises when those separate powers of art, the Apollonian and the Dionysian, come to operate alongside each 
other? Or, put more briefly, what is the relationship between music and images and ideas? Richard Wagner 
applauded Schopenhauer on this very point for the restrained clarity and perceptiveness of his explanation. 
Schopenhauer spoke his views on this matter in the greatest detail in the following place (which I will quote 
again here in full, from World as Will and Idea, I, p. 309): 

As a result of all this, we can look upon the world of appearance, or nature, and music as two 
different expressions of the same thing, which itself is thus the only analogy mediating 
between the two of them. Thus, an understanding of this thing is required in order to have 
insight into that analogy. Consequently, music, when considered as an expression of the 
world, is universal to the highest degree, something which even has a relationship with the 
universality of ideas, rather like the way these are related to particular things. Its universality 
is, however, in no way the empty universality of abstractions, but something of an entirely 
different kind, bound up with a thoroughly clear certainty. In this, music is like geometric 
figures and numbers, which are the universal forms of all possible objects of experience and 
applicable to them all a priori [before experience], although they are not abstract but vivid 
and always fixed. 

All possible efforts, excitements, and expressions of the will, all those processes inside human 
beings, which reason subsumes under the broad negative concept of feelings, are there to 
express through the infinite number of possible melodies, but always in the universality of 
mere form, without matter, always only according to the thing-in-itself, not according to its 
appearance, like its innermost soul, without the body. 

From these inner relationships which music has with the true essence of all things, we can 
also account for the fact that when an appropriate music is heard in any scene, business, 
action, or environment, this music appears to open up to us the most secret sense of these 
things, and seems to come forward as the most correct and clearest commentary on them. In 
the same way, for the man who surrenders himself entirely to the experience of a symphony it 
appears as if he saw all the possible events of life and the world drawn over into himself. 
Nevertheless, he cannot, if he thinks about it, perceive any similarity between that game of 
sounds and the things which come into his mind. 

For music is, as mentioned, different from all other arts, in that it is not a portrayal of 
appearances, or more correctly, the adequate objectification of the will, but the unmediated 
portrayal of the will itself, as well as the metaphysical complement of all physical things in 
the world, presenting the thing-in-itself as complement to all appearances. We could, 
therefore, call the world the embodiment of music just as much as the embodiment of the will. 

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And that's why it is understandable that music is capable of bringing out every painting, even 
every scene of real life and the world, with an immediate and higher significance and, of 
course, to do that all the more, the closer the analogy of its melody to the inner spirit of the 
given phenomenon. On this point we base the fact that we can set a poem to music as a song 
or as a vivid presentation in pantomime or as both in an opera. Such individual pictures of 
men's lives, given a foundation in the universal speech of music, are not bound to music and 
do not correspond with music by a compelling necessity, but they stand in relation to music as 
a random example to a universal idea. They present in the clarity of the real the very thing 
which music expresses in the universality of mere form. 

For melodies are, to a certain extent, like general ideas, an abstraction from the real. For 
reality, the world of separate things, supplies clear phenomena, remarkable and individual 
things, the single case, to both the universality of ideas and the universality of melodies. Both 
of these universals, however, are, from a certain point of view, contrary, since ideas consist 
only of forms abstracted first from perception, rather like the stripped away outer skin of 
things, and are thus really and entirely abstractions.; whereas, music, by contrast, gives the 
heart of the thing, the innermost core, which comes before all particular shapes. This 
relationship is easily expressed properly in the language of the scholastics: ideas are the 
universalia post rem {universals after the fact); music, however, gives the universalia ante 
rem {universals before the fact), and reality the universalia in re {universals in the fact). 

The fact that in general there can be a connection between a musical composition and a 
perceptible presentation rests on the point that, as stated, both are only very different 
expressions of same inner essence of the world. Now, when in a particular case such a 
connection is truly present and the composer has known how to express in the universal 
language of music the dynamics of the will, which constitutes the core of the event, then the 
melody of the song, the music of the opera, is full of expression. The composer's discovery of 
the analogy between both must, however, issue from the immediate realization of the world 
essence, unknown to his reason, and must not be an imitation, conveyed in ideas with 
conscious intentionality. Otherwise the music does not express the inner essence, that is, the 
will itself, but only imitates inadequately its appearance." 

Following what Schopenhauer has taught, we also understand music as the language of the unmediated will 
and feel our imaginations stirred to shape that spirit world which speaks to us invisibly and nonetheless in 
such a vital manner and to embody it in ourselves through a metaphorical illustration. By contrast, image and 
idea, under the influence of a truly appropriate music, reach an elevated significance. Thus, Dionysian art 
customarily works in two ways on Apollonian artistic potential: music arouses us to consider an image, in 
some way similar to the Dionysian universality, and music then permits that image to come forward with the 
highest significance. 

From this intelligible observation and without any deeper considerations of unapproachable things, I conclude 
that music is capable of generating myth (that is the most meaningful example) and, indeed, of giving birth to 
the tragic myth, that myth which speaks of the recognition of the Dionysian among the Greeks. I have 
explained the phenomenon of the lyric poet, and after that how music in the lyric poet strives to make known 
its essence in Apollonian pictures. Let us now imagine that music at its highest intensity also must seek to 
reach its highest representation. Thus, we must consider it possible that music also knows how to find the 
symbolic expression for its essentially Dionysian wisdom. And where else will we have to look for this 
expression, if not in tragedy and in the idea of tragedy generally? 

From the essence of art as it is commonly understood according to the single categories of illusion and beauty 
it is genuinely impossible to derive the tragic. Only with reference to the spirit of music do we understand a 

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joy in the destruction of the individual. Now, individual examples of such a destruction makes clear the 
eternal phenomenon of Dionysian art, which brings into expression the will in its omnipotence out from 
behind, so to speak, the principium individuationis , the life beyond all appearances and eternal life, in spite of 
all destruction. 

The metaphysical joy in the tragic is a translation of the instinctive unconscious Dionysian wisdom into the 
language of the image. The hero, the highest manifestation of the will, is destroyed, and we are happy at that, 
because, after all, he is only an illusion, and the eternal life of the will is not disturbed by his destruction. "We 
believe in eternal life," so tragedy calls out, while the music is the unmediated idea of this life. The work of 
the plastic artist has an entirely purpose: Here Apollo overcomes the suffering of the individual through the 
bright exaltation in the eternity of the illusion. Here beauty is victorious over the suffering inherent in life. The 
pain is, in a certain sense, brushed away from the face of nature. In Dionysian art and in its tragic symbolism 
this same nature speaks to us with its true, undisguised voice: "Be as I am! Under the incessantly changing 
phenomena the eternal primordial mother, always forcing things into existence, always satisfied with the 
changing nature of appearances!" 


Dionysian art also wants to convince us of the eternal delight in existence. But we must seek this delight, not 
in appearances, but behind them. We must recognize how everything which comes into being must be ready 
for a painful destruction. We are forced to gaze directly into the terror of individual existence but, in the 
process, must not become paralyzed. A metaphysical consolation tears us momentarily out of the hustle and 
bustle of changing forms. For a short time we really are the primordial essence itself and feel its unbridled lust 
for and joy in existence. The struggle, torment, and destruction of appearances we now consider necessary, on 
account of the excess of countless forms of existence forcefully thrusting themselves into life, and of the 
exuberant fecundity of the world's will. We are transfixed by the raging barbs of this torment in the very 
moment when we become, as it were, one with the immeasurable primordial delight in existence and when we 
sense the indestructible and eternal nature of this Dionysian joy. In spite of fear and compassion, we are 
fortunate vital beings, not as individuals, but as the one force of Life, with whose procreative joy we have 
been fused. 

The story of how Greek tragedy arose tells us now with clear certainty how the Greeks' tragic work of art 
really was born out of the spirit of music. With this idea we think we have, for the first time, reached a true 
understanding of the original and astonishing meaning of the chorus. At the same time, however, we must 
concede that the significance of the tragic myth explained previously, to say nothing of Greek philosophy, was 
never entirely clear to the Greek poets. Their heroes speak to a certain extent more superficially than they act, 
and the myth does not really find its adequate objectification in the spoken word. 

The structure of the scenes and the vivid images reveal a deeper wisdom than the poet himself can grasp in 
words and ideas. We can make the same observation about Shakespeare, whose Hamlet, for example, 
similarly speaks in a more superficial manner than he acts, so that we derive the above mentioned study of 
Hamlet, not from the words, but from the deepest view and review of the totality of the work. With respect to 
Greek tragedy, which, of course, comes to us only as a drama of words, I have even suggested that that 
incongruity between myth and word can easily seduce us into considering it shallower and more empty of 
meaning than it is, and thus to assume a more superficial action than it must have had according to the 
testimony of the ancients. For we easily forget that what the poet as a wordsmith could not achieve, the 
attainment of the highest intellectualization and idealization of myth, he could achieve successfully at any 
time as a creating musician. 

Admittedly through scholarship we must recreate the extraordinary power of the musical effects in order to 
receive something of that incomparable consolation necessarily characteristic of true tragedy. But we would 

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experience this extraordinary musical power for what it is only if we were Greeks, because considering the 
entire development of Greek music, which is well known, quite familiar to us, and infinitely richer by 
comparison, we believe we are hearing only youthful songs, sung with only a timid sense of their power. The 
Greeks are, as the Egyptian priests say, eternal children, and where tragic art is concerned, only children who 
do not know what an exalted toy has arisen under their hands, something which will be destroyed. 

Every struggle of the spirit of music for pictorial and mythic revelation, which becomes increasingly intense 
from the beginning of the lyric right up to Attic tragedy, suddenly breaks apart, right after developing in full 
luxuriant bloom, and, so to speak, disappears from the surface of Hellenic art, although the Dionysian world 
view born out of this struggle lives on in the mysteries and in its most amazing transformations and 
degeneration never stops attracting serious natures to it. Isn't it possible that it will rise from its mystical 
depths as art once more? 

At this point we are concerned with the question whether the power whose hostile effects broke tragedy has 
sufficient power for all time to hinder the artistic re-growth of tragedy and the tragic world view. If the old 
tragedy was derailed by the dialectical drive for knowledge and by the optimism of scholarly research, we 
might have to infer from this fact an eternal struggle between the theoretical and the tragic world views. And 
only after the spirit of knowledge is taken right to its limits and its claim to universal validity destroyed by the 
establishment of that limit would it be possible to hope for a re-birth of tragedy. For a symbol of such a 
cultural form, we would have to set up Socrates the player of music, in the sense talked about earlier. By this 
opposition I understand with respect to the spirit of scholarly research the belief (which first came to light in 
the person of Socrates) that our understanding of nature can be grounded and that knowledge has a universal 
healing power. 

Whoever remembers the most immediate consequences of this restless forward driving spirit of scientific 
knowledge will immediately recall how it destroyed myth and how through this destruction poetry was driven 
out of its naturally ideal soil as something from now on without a home. If we have correctly ascribed to 
music the power to bring about out of itself a re-birth of myth, then we will have to seek out the spirit of 
science on that very path where it has its hostile encounter with the myth-creating power of music. This 
occurred in the development of the new Attic dithyramb, whose music no longer expressed the inner essence, 
the will itself, but only gave back an inadequate appearance in an imitation delivered through ideas. From 
such innerly degenerate music those with a true musical nature turned away with the same aversion which 
they had displayed before the art-killing tendency of Socrates. 

The instinct of Aristophanes (which grasped issues so surely) was certainly right when he linked together 
Socrates himself, the tragedies of Euripides, and the music of the new writers of dithyrambs, hating each of 
them and smelling in all three of them the characteristics of a degenerate culture. Through that new 
dithyramb, music is criminally turned into a mimetic demonstration of appearances, for example, a battle or 
storm at sea, and in the process is totally robbed of all its power to create myths. For when music seeks only 
to arouse our indulgence by compelling us to find external analogies between an event in life or nature and 
certain rhythmic figures and characteristic musical sounds, when our understanding is supposed to be satisfied 
with the recognition of these analogies, then we are dragged down into a mood in which a conception of the 
mythic is impossible. For myth must be vividly felt as a single instance of universality and truth staring into 
the infinite. 

Truly Dionysian music works on us as a universal mirror reflecting the will of the world. Each vivid event 
reflected in this mirror widens out at once for our feelings into the image of an eternal truth. By contrast, the 
sound painting of the new dithyramb immediately strips such a vivid event of its mythic character. Now the 
music has become a feeble copy of a phenomenon and, in the process, infinitely poorer than the phenomenon 
itself. Through this impoverishment the phenomenon itself is even lowered in our feelings, so that now, for 
example, a battle imitated in this kind of music plays itself feebly out in marches, trumpet calls, and so forth, 

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and our imagination is held back precisely by these superficialities. 

Painting with music is thus in every respect the opposite to the myth creating power of true music. Through 
the former a phenomenon becomes more impoverished than it is, whereas through Dionysian music the 
individual phenomenon becomes richer and widens into an image of the world. It was a powerful victory of 
the non-Dionysian spirit when, in the development of the new dithyramb, it alienated music from itself and 
pushed it down to be the slave of appearances. Euripides, who, in a higher sense, must have had a thoroughly 
unmusical nature, is for this very reason an ardent supporter of the new dithyrambic music and uses all its 
stock effects and styles with the open-handedness of a thief. 

From another perspective we see the force of this un-Dionysian spirit in action directing its effects against 
myth, when we turn our gaze toward the way in which the way in which the presentation of character and the 
psychological complexities get way out of hand in the tragedies of Sophocles. The character cannot be 
allowed to broaden out any more into an eternal type, but, by contrast, must appear an individual through the 
artistic qualifications and shading, through the most delicate clarity of every line, so that the spectator 
generally no longer experiences the myth but the commanding naturalism of the artist, his power of imitation. 

Here also we become aware of the victory of appearances over the universal and of the delight in the 
particular, rather like an anatomical specimen. Already we breathe the air of a theoretical world, which values 
the scientific insight higher than the artistic mirror image of a universal principle. The movement along the 
line of increasing characterization quickly goes further. While Sophocles still paints whole characters and 
yokes their sophisticated development to myth, Euripides already paints only large individual character traits, 
which are capable of expressing themselves in violent passions. In the new Attic comedy there are masks with 
only one expression, reckless old men, deceived pimps, mischievous slaves in an inexhaustible repetition. 

Where now has the myth-building spirit of music gone? What is left now for music is music of stimulation or 
memory, that is, either music as a means of stimulating jaded and worn out nerves or sound painting. As far as 
the first is concerned, the text is largely irrelevant. Already in Euripides, when his heroes or chorus first start 
to sing, things get really out of hand. What must it have been like with his unapologetic successors? 

However, the new un-Dionysian spirit manifests itself with the utmost clarity in the conclusions of the new 
plays. In the old tragedy, the metaphysical consolation was there to feel at the conclusion. Without that, the 
delight in tragedy simply cannot be explained. The sound of reconciliation from another world echoes most 
purely perhaps in Oedipus at Colonus. But as soon as the genius of music flew away from tragedy, tragedy is, 
in the strong sense of the term, dead. For out of what are people now able to create that metaphysical 

Consequently, people looked for an earthly solution to tragic dissonance. After the hero was sufficiently 
tortured by fate, he was paid a well earned reward in an impressive marriage, in divine testament to his 
honour. The hero became a gladiator, to whom people gave his freedom, after he had been well beaten and 
was covered with wounds. The deus ex machina moved in to take the place of metaphysical consolation. I will 
not say that the tragic world view was destroyed entirely and completely by the surging spirit of the 
un-Dionysian. We only know that it must have fled out of art as if into the underworld, degenerating into a 
secret cult. 

But over the widest surface area of Hellenistic existence raged the consuming wind of that spirit which 
announces itself in the form of "Greek serenity," to which I referred earlier as an impotent and unproductive 
delight in life. This serenity is a counterpart to the marvelous "naivete" of the old Greeks, which we must 
see — in accordance with its given characteristics — as the flowering of Apollonian culture, blossoming out of a 
dark abyss, as the victory over suffering, the wisdom of suffering, which the Hellenic will gains through its 
ability to mirror beauty. 

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The noblest form of that other form of "Greek serenity," the Alexandrian, is the cheerfulness of the theoretical 
man. It manifests the same characteristic features I already derived out of the idea of the un-Dionysian: it 
fights against Dionysian wisdom and art; it strives to dissolve myth; it places an earthy consonance in place of 
a metaphysical consolation, indeed a particular deus ex machina, namely, the god of machines and crucibles, 
that is, the force of nature, recognized and used in the service of a higher egoism; it believes in correcting the 
world through knowledge, a life led by scientific knowledge, and thus is really in a position to confine the 
individual man in the narrowest circle of problems which can be solved, inside which he can cheerfully say to 
life: "I want you. You are worth knowing." 


It's an eternal phenomenon: the voracious will always finds a way to keep its creatures alive and force them on 
to further living by an illusion spread over things. One man is fascinated by the Socratic desire for knowledge 
and the delusion that with it he'll be able to cure the eternal wound of existence. Another is caught up by the 
seductively beautiful veil of art fluttering before his eyes; yet another by the metaphysical consolation that 
underneath the hurly-burly of appearances eternal life flows on indestructibly, to say nothing of the more 
common and almost more powerful illusions which the will holds ready at all times. In general, these three 
stages of illusion are only for nobly endowed natures, those who feel the weight and difficulty of existence 
with more profound reluctance and who need to be deceived out of this reluctance by these exquisite 
stimulants. Everything we call culture emerges from these stimulants: depending on the proportions of the 
mixture we have a predominantly Socratic or artistic or tragic culture — or if you'll permit historical 
examples — there is either an Alexandrian or a Hellenic or a Buddhist culture. 

Our entire modern world is trapped in the net of Alexandrian culture and recognizes as its ideal the theoretical 
man, equipped with the highest intellectual powers and working in the service of science, a man for whom 
Socrates is the prototype and progenitor. All our methods of education originally have this ideal in view. 
Every other existence has struggled on with difficulty alongside this ideal as a way of life we permit, not as 
one we intend. For a long time now, it's been almost frightening to sense how an educated person here is 
found only in the form of the scholar. Even our literary arts have had to develop out of scholarly imitations, 
and in the main effect of rhyme we recognize still the development of our poetical form out of artificial 
experiments with what is essentially really a scholarly language, not one native to us. 

To a true Greek how incomprehensible must Faust have appeared, that man of modern culture, who is 
inherently intelligible to us — Faust, who storms dissatisfied through all faculties, his drive for knowledge 
making him devoted to magic and the devil. We have only to stand him beside Socrates for comparison in 
order to recognize that modern man is beginning to have a premonition of the limits of that Socratic desire for 
knowledge and is yearning for a coastline somewhere in the wide and desolate sea of knowledge. When 
Goethe once remarked to Eckermann, with reference to Napoleon, "Yes, my good man, there is also a 
productivity in actions," in a delightfully naive way he was reminding us that the non-theoretical human 
being is something implausible and astonishing to modern man, so that we had to have the wisdom of a 
Goethe to find out that such a strange form of existence is comprehensible, even forgivable. 

And now we must not conceal from ourselves what lies hidden in the womb of this Socratic culture! An 
optimism that thinks itself all powerful! Well, people should not be surprised when the fruits of this optimism 
ripen, when a society that has been thoroughly leavened with this kind of culture, right down to the lowest 
levels, gradually starts trembling in an extravagant turmoil of desires, when the belief in earthly happiness for 
everyone, when faith in the possibility of such a universal knowledge culture gradually changes into the 
threatening demand for such an Alexandrian earthly happiness, into the invocation of a Euripidean deus ex 
machina ! 

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People should take note: Alexandrian culture requires a slave class in order to be able to exist over time, but 
with its optimistic view of existence, it denies the necessity for such a class and thus, when the effect of its 
beautiful words of seduction and reassurance about the "dignity of human beings" and the "dignity of work" 
has worn off, it gradually moves towards a horrific destruction. There is nothing more frightening than a 
barbarian slave class which has learned to think of its existence as an injustice and is preparing to take 
revenge, not only for itself, but for all generations. 

In the face of such threatening storms, who dares appeal with sure confidence to our pale and exhausted 
religions, which themselves in their foundations have degenerated into scholarly religions, so that myth, the 
essential precondition for all religions, is already everywhere paralyzed — even in this area that optimistic 
spirit which we have just described as the germ of destruction of our society has gained control. 

While the disaster slumbering in the bosom of theoretical culture gradually begins to worry modern man and 
while he, in his uneasiness, reaches into the treasure of his experience for ways to avert the danger, without 
any inherent faith in these means, and while he also begins to have a premonition of his own particular 
consequences, some great and widely gifted natures have, with incredibly careful thought, known how to use 
the tools of science to set out the boundaries and relative nature of knowledge itself and, in the process, 
decisively to deny the claim of science to universal validity and universal goals. With proofs like this, for the 
first time that delusion which presumes with the help of causality to be able to ground the innermost essence 
of things has become recognized for what it is. 

The immense courage and wisdom of Kant and Schopenhauer achieved the most difficult victory, the one 
over the optimism lying concealed in the essential nature of logic, which is, in turn, the foundation of our 
culture. While this logic, based on aeternae veritates [eternal truths] which it did not consider open to 
objection, had believed that all the riddles of the world could be recognized and resolved and had treated 
space, time, and causality as totally unconditional laws with the most universal validity, Kant showed how 
these really served only to raise mere appearance, the work of Maja, to the only reality, the highest reality, and 
to set it in place as the innermost and true essence of things and thus to make true knowledge of this essence 
impossible, that is, to use an expression of Schopenhauer, to get the dreamer to sleep even more soundly 
{World as Will and Idea, I, 498). 

With this recognition there is introduced a culture which I venture to describe as a tragic culture. Its most 
important distinguishing feature is that wisdom replaces knowledge as the highest goal, a wisdom which, 
undeceived by the seductive diversions of science, turns its unswerving gaze towards the all-encompassing 
picture of the world and, with a sympathetic feeling of love, seeks in that world to grasp eternal suffering as 
its own suffering. Let's imagine a growing generation with this fearless gaze, this heroic attraction for what is 
immense; let's imagine the bold step of these dragon slayers, the proud daring with which they turn their backs 
on all the doctrines of weakness belonging to that optimism, in order to "live resolutely," fully and 
completely. Would that not require the tragic man of this culture in his self-education for seriousness and 
terror to desire a new art, the art of metaphysical consolation, to desire tragedy as the Helen which belongs to 
him and to have to cry out with Faust: 

With my desire's power, should I not call 
Into this life the fairest form of all? 

However, now that Socratic culture has been shaken on two sides — once by the fear of its own consequences, 
which it is definitely beginning to sense, and, in addition, because it is itself no longer convinced of the 
eternal validity of its foundations with that earlier naive trust — it can hang onto the sceptre of its infallibility 
only with trembling hands. So it's a sorry spectacle — how the dance of its thinking dashes longingly after new 
forms in order to embrace them and then how, like Mephistopheles with the seductive Lamia, it suddenly, 
with a shudder, lets them go. 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

That is, in fact, the characteristic mark of that fracture which everyone habitually talks about as the root 
malady of modern culture, that theoretical man is afraid of his own consequences and, in his dissatisfaction, 
no longer dares to commit himself to the fearful ice currents of existence. He runs anxiously up and down 
along the shore. He no longer wants to have anything completely, any totality with all the natural cruelty of 
things. That's how much the optimistic way of seeing things has mollycoddled him. At the same time he feels 
how a culture which has been built on the principles of science must collapse when it begins to become 
illogical, that is, when it begins to run back, away from its own consequences. 

Our art reveals this general distress: in vain people use imitation to lean on all the great productive periods 
and natures; in vain they gather all "world literature" around modern man to bring him consolation and place 
him in the middle of artistic styles and artists of all ages, so that he may, like Adam with the animals, give 
them a name. But he remains an eternally hungry man, the "critic" without joy and power, the Alexandrian 
man, who is basically a librarian and copy editor and goes miserably blind from the dust of books and printing 


We can designate the innermost form of this Socratic culture most precisely when we call it the culture of 
opera, for in this area our Socratic culture, with characteristic naivete, has expressed its wishes and 
perceptions — something astonishing to us if we bring the genesis of opera and the facts of the development of 
opera together with the eternal truths of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. 

First, I recall the emergence of the stilo rappresentativo [the representational style] and of recitative. Is it 
credible that this entirely externalized opera music, something incapable of worship, could be accepted and 
preserved with wildly enthusiastic favour, as if it were the rebirth of all true music, in an age in which 
Palestrina's inexpressibly awe-inspiring and sacred music had just arisen? On the other hand, who would 
make the diversion-loving voluptuousness of those Florentine circles or the vanity of its dramatic singers 
responsible for such a rapidly spreading love of opera? The fact that in the same age, indeed, in the same 
peoples, alongside the vaulted structure of Palestrina's harmonies, which the entire Christian Middle Ages had 
developed, there awoke that passion for a half-musical way of speaking — that I can only explain by some 
tendency beyond art, something also at work in the very nature of recitative. 

To the listener who wishes to hear clearly the word under the singing, there corresponds the singer who 
speaks more than he sings and who intensifies the expressions of pathos in half-singing. Through this 
intensification of pathos he makes the words easier to understand and overpowers what's left of the musical 
half. The real danger now threatening him is that at an inopportune moment he may give the music the major 
emphasis, so that the pathos in the speech and the clarity of the words necessarily disappear. On the other 
hand, he always feels the urge for musical release and a virtuoso presentation of his voice. Here the "poet" 
comes to his assistance, the man who knows how to provide him sufficient opportunities for lyrical 
interjections, repetitions of words and sentences, and so on, places where the singer can now rest in a purely 
musical element, without considering the words. This alternation of only half-sung speech full of urgent 
emotion and interjections which are all singing, which lies at the heart of the stilo rappresentativo, this rapidly 
changing effort at one moment to affect the understanding and imagination of the listener and at another to 
work on his musical senses, is something so completely unnatural and at the same time so innerly 
contradictory to the Dionysian and Apollonian artistic drives that we must conclude that the origin of 
recitative lies outside all artistic instincts. 

According to this account, we should define recitative as the mixing of epic and lyric performing, but not at 
all in an innerly consistent blending, which could never have been attained with such entirely disparate things, 
but the most external conglutination, in the style of a mosaic, something the like of which has no model 
whatsoever in the realm of nature and experience. But this was not the opinion of those inventors of recitative. 

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Rather they — along with their age — believed that through that stilo rappresentativo the secret of ancient 
music had been resolved and that only through it could one explain the tremendous effect of an Orpheus, 
Amphion, and, indeed, even of Greek tragedy. The new style was valued as the re-awakening of the most 
effective music — the music of the ancient Greeks. In fact, under the universal and totally popular conception 
of the Homeric world as the primitive world, people allowed themselves to surrender to the dream that they 
had now climbed down back once more into the paradisal beginnings of humankind, when music necessarily 
must have had that superb purity, power, and innocence which the poets knew how to talk about so movingly 
in their pastoral plays. 

Here we see the innermost development of this truly modern style of art, the opera. A powerful need forces 
itself out in art, but it is a need of an unaesthetic sort: the yearning for the idyllic, the belief in a primordial 
existence of the artistic and good man. Recitative served as the rediscovered language of that primordial man, 
and opera as the rediscovered land of that idyllic or heroically good being, who in all his actions at the same 
time follows a natural artistic drive, who sings at least something in everything he has to say, so that, given 
the slightest emotional arousal, he can immediately sing out in full voice. 

For us now it is unimportant that contemporary humanists used this newly created picture of the paradisal 
artist to fight against the old church idea of human beings as inherently corrupt and lost, so that opera is to be 
understood as the opposing dogma of good people, something in which they simultaneously discovered a way 
of consoling themselves against that pessimism to which the seriously minded people of that time, given the 
horrifying uncertainties of all social conditions, were attracted most strongly. It's enough for us to recognize 
how the real magic and thus the origin of this new artistic form lies in the satisfaction of an entirely 
unaesthetic need, in the optimistic glorification of man as such, in its view of primitive man as naturally good 
and artistic man. This operatic principle has gradually transformed itself into a threatening and terrible 
demand, which we, faced with the socialist movement of the present day, can no longer fail to hear. The 
"good primitive man" wants his rights: what paradisal prospects! 

Alongside this point I set another equally clear confirmation of my opinion that opera is constructed on the 
same principles as our Alexandrian culture. Opera is the birth of theoretical man, of the critical layman, not of 
the artist — one of the strangest facts in the history of all the arts. It was the demand of completely unmusical 
listeners that people had to hear the words above all, so that a rebirth of music was only to be expected when 
some way of singing was discovered according to which the words of the text rule over the counterpoint the 
way a lord rules his servants. For the words (they said) are nobler than the accompanying harmonic system 
just as the soul is nobler than the body. In the beginning of opera, the union of music, image, and word was 
treated according to the amateurish and unmusical crudity of these views. The first experiments with the sense 
of this aesthetic were launched in distinguished amateur circles in Florence by the poets and singers 
patronized there. 

The man who is artistically impotent produces for himself a form of art precisely because he is the inherently 
inartistic man. Because he has no sense of the Dionysian depths of music, for his own sake he transforms 
musical taste into easy to understand verbal and musical rhetoric of the passions in stilo rappresentativo and 
into the voluptuousness of the art of singing. Because he is incapable of seeing a vision, he presses mechanics 
and decorative artists into his service. Because he has no idea how to grasp the true essence of the artist, he 
conjures up right in front of him the "artistic primitive man" to suit his own taste, that is, the man who, when 
passionate, sings and speaks verse. He dreams himself back in an age in which passion was sufficient to 
produce songs and poems, as if that feeling has ever been in a position to create something artistic. The 
precondition of opera is a false belief about the artistic process; it is, in fact, the idyllic faith that in reality 
every sensitive man is an artist. According to the meaning of this belief, opera is the expression of lay 
amateurs in art, something which dictates its laws with the cheerful optimism of theoretical man. 

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If we wanted to bring together into a single conception both of these ideas I have just described in connection 
with the origin of opera, all we would have left to do is to speak of an idyllic tendency in opera — and the only 
things we would need to use are Schiller's way of expressing himself and his explanation. He claimed that 
nature and the ideal are either an object of sorrow, when the former is represented as lost and the latter as 
unattained or both are an object of joy, when they are represented as real. The first produces the elegy in a 
narrower sense, and the other produces the idyll in its broadest sense. And right away we must draw attention 
to the common characteristic of both of these ideas in the genesis of opera — that in them the ideal does not 
register as unattained and nature does not register as lost. 

According to this feeling, there was a primordial time for man when he lay on the heart of nature and, with 
this state of nature, simultaneously attained the ideal of humanity in paradisal goodness and artistry. We all 
are said to have descended from these perfect primitive men, indeed, we still were their faithful image — we 
only had to cast some things away from us in order to recognize ourselves once again as these primitive 
people, thanks to a voluntary renunciation of superfluous scholarship, of lavish culture. 

Through his operatic imitation of Greek tragedy, the educated man of the Renaissance let himself be led back 
to such a harmony of nature and the ideal, to an idyllic reality. He used this tragedy, as Dante used Virgil, to 
be brought right up to the gates of paradise, while from this point on he strode even further on his own and 
passed over from an imitation of the highest Greek art form to a "restoration of all things," to a copy of man's 
original art world. 

What a confident good nature there is in these audacious attempts, right in the bosom of theoretical culture! 
Something to be explained only by the comforting faith that "man in himself is the eternally virtuous hero of 
opera, the eternally piping or singing shepherd, who must always in the end rediscover himself as such, should 
he find out at some time or other that he has really lost himself for a while — something which is only the fruit 
of that optimism which here arises out of the depths of the Socratic world view, like a sweetly seductive 
fragrant column of air. 

Hence among the characteristics of opera there is no sense at all of that elegiac pain of eternal loss — there is 
rather the cheerfulness of an eternal rediscovery, the comfortable joy in an idyllic reality which man can at 
least imagine for himself at all times. But in doing this, man may perhaps at some point suspect that this 
imagined reality is nothing other than a fantastically silly indulgence. Anyone able to measure this against the 
fearful seriousness of true nature and to compare it with the actual primitive scenes of the beginnings of 
humanity would have to cry out in disgust — Get rid of that phantom! 

Nevertheless, we would be deceiving ourselves if we believed that such a playful being as opera could be 
chased away simply by a powerful shout, like a ghost. Whoever wants to destroy opera must undertake the 
struggle against that Alexandrine cheerfulness which expresses its favourite idea so naively in opera; in fact, 
opera is its real artistic form. But what can we expect for art itself from the effect of a form of art whose 
origins in general do not lie in the aesthetic realm but which have rather stolen from a half moralistic sphere 
over into the realm of art and which can deceive people about its hybrid origin only now and then? 

On what juices does this parasitic operatic being feed itself, if not from the sap of true art? Are we not to 
assume that, under the influence of opera's idyllic seductions and its Alexandrine arts of flattering, the highest 
task of art, the one we should take really seriously — saving the eye from a glimpse into the horror of the night 
and through the healing balm of illusion rescuing the subject from the spasms brought about by the strivings 
of the will — would degenerate into a trend to empty and scattered diversion? What happens to the eternal 
truths of the Dionysian and the Apollonian in such a mixture of styles of the sort I have set down as the 
essence of the stilo rappresentativo, where the music is considered the servant and the libretto the master, 
where the music is compared to the body and the libretto to the soul, where the highest goal at best will aim at 
a descriptive tone painting, as it was earlier with the new Attic dithyramb, where the music is completely 

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alienated from its true office, which is to be a Dionysian world-mirror, so that the only thing left for it is to 
imitate the essential forms of appearances, like a slave of phenomena, and to arouse superficial entertainment 
in the play of lines and proportions? 

A rigorous examination shows how this fatal influence of opera on music coincides precisely with the entire 
development of modern music. The optimism lurking in the genesis of opera and in the essence of the culture 
represented through opera succeeded with alarming speed in stripping music of its Dionysian world meaning 
and stamping on it a formally playful and entertaining character. This transformation can only be compared to 
something like the metamorphosis of Aeschylean man into the Alexandrian cheerful man. 

If in the explanation given above we have been right to link the disappearance of the Dionysian spirit with an 
extremely striking but so far unexplained transformation and degeneration of Greek man, what hopes must 
revive in us when the most certain favourable signs bring us the guarantee of the gradual awakening of the 
Dionysian spirit in our contemporary world! It is not possible that the divine power of Hercules should remain 
always impotent in voluptuous bondage to Omphale. Out of the Dionysian foundation of the German spirit a 
power has arisen which has nothing in common with the most basic assumptions of Socratic culture, 
something those assumptions cannot explain or excuse. Rather from the point of view of this culture it is 
experienced as something terrible which cannot be explained, as something overpoweringly hostile — and that 
is German music, above all as it is to be understood in its forceful orbit from Bach to Beethoven, from 
Beethoven to Wagner. 

Even in the best of circumstances what can the Socratic man of our day, greedy for knowledge, begin to make 
of this daemon rising from the inexhaustible depths? Neither from the lacework or arabesques of operatic 
melodies nor with the help of the arithmetic abacus of fugue and contrapuntal dialectic will a formula reveal 
itself in whose triple-powered light people can render that daemon obsequious and compel it to speak. What a 
spectacle when our aestheticians nowadays, with the fishing net of "beauty" all their own, strike at and try to 
catch that musical genius roaming about in front of them with incredible life, with movements which will not 
be judged according to eternal beauty any more than according to notions of the sublime. We should only 
inspect these patrons of music in person and at close quarters, when they cry out so tirelessly "Beauty! 
Beauty!" to see whether they look like educated and discriminating darling children of nature or whether they 
are not rather seeking a deceptively euphemistic form for their own crudity, an aesthetic pretext for their 
characteristically unfeeling sobriety. Here, for example, I'm thinking of Otto Jahn. 

But the liar and hypocrite should beware of German music, for in the midst of all our culture it is precisely the 
one unalloyed pure and purifying fire spirit out from which and towards which all things move in a double 
orbit, as in the doctrine of the great Heraclitus of Ephesus: everything which we now call culture, education, 
and civilization must at some point appear before the unerring judge Dionysus. Furthermore, let's remember 
how the spirit of German philosophy in Kant and Schopenhauer, streaming from the same springs, was able to 
annihilate the contented joy in existence of scholarly Socratism by demonstrating its boundaries, and how 
with this demonstration an infinitely deeper and more serious consideration of ethical questions and art was 
introduced, which we can truly describe as Dionysian wisdom conceptually understood. 

Where does the mystery of this unity between German music and German philosophy point if not to a new 
form of existence, about whose meaning we can inform ourselves only by speculating on the basis of 
analogies with the Greeks? For the Greek model has this immeasurable value for us who stand on the border 
line between two different forms of existence — that in it are stamped all those transitions and struggles in a 
classically instructive form, except that we are, as it were, living through the great high points of Greek being 
in the reverse order. For example, we seem to be moving now out of an Alexandrian period backwards into a 
period of tragedy. 

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At the same time, we feel as if the birth of a tragic time period for the German spirit only means a return to 
itself, a blessed re-discovery of self, after immensely powerful forces from outside had for a long time forced 
it into servitude under their form, since that spirit, so far as form is concerned, lived in helpless barbarism. 
And now finally after its return home to the original spring of its being, it can dare to stride in here before all 
peoples, bold and free, without the guiding reins of Roman civilization. If only it can now understand how to 
learn all the time from a single people, the Greeks — being capable of learning from them is already a high 
honour and a remarkable distinction. And when have we needed these most eminent of mentors more than 
now, when we are experiencing the rebirth of tragedy and are in danger of not knowing where it is coming 
from or of being able to interpret where it is going? 


At some point under the gaze of an incorruptible judge we may determine in what ages and in which men up 
to now the German spirit has struggled most powerfully to learn from the Greeks. And if we can assume with 
some confidence that this extraordinary praise must be awarded to the noblest cultural struggles of Goethe, 
Schiller, and Winckelmann, then we would certainly have to add that since that time and the most recent 
developments of that battle, the attempt to attain a culture and to reach the Greeks by the same route has 
become incomprehensibly weaker and weaker. 

In order to avoid being forced into total despair about the German spirit, shouldn't we conclude from all this 
that in some important point or other these fighters were not successful in penetrating the Hellenic spirit and 
creating a lasting bond of love between German and Greek culture? And beyond that, perhaps an unconscious 
recognition of this failure gives rise in serious people to the enervating doubt whether, after such predecessors, 
they could go even further than these men had along this cultural path and reach their goal at all. For that 
reason since that time we've seen judgments about the educational value of the Greeks degenerate in the most 
disturbing way. We can hear expressions of sympathetic condescension in the most varied encampments of 
the spirit and of the lack of spirit. In other places a completely ineffectual sweet talk flirts with "Greek 
harmony," "Greek beauty," and "Greek cheerfulness." 

And precisely in the circles which could dignify themselves by drawing tirelessly from the Greek river bed in 
order to benefit German education — the circles of teachers in the institutes of higher education — people have 
learned best to come to terms with the Greeks early and in a comfortable manner, often with a sceptical 
abandoning of the Hellenic ideal and a total reversal of the real purpose of classical studies. In general, anyone 
in these circles who hasn't completely exhausted himself in the effort to be a dependable corrector of old texts 
or a microscopic studier of language, like some natural historian may perhaps also seek to acquire Greek 
antiquity " historically," as well as other antiquities, but in any case following the methods of our present 
scholarly writing, along with their supercilious expressions. 

If, as a result, the real cultural power of our institutions of higher learning has certainly never been lower and 
weaker than at present, if the "journalist," the paper slave of the day, has won his victory over the professors 
so far as culture is concerned and the only thing still left for the latter is the frequently experienced 
metamorphosis which has them also moving around these days with the speech styles of a journalist, with the 
"light elegance" of this sphere, like cheerful well-educated butterflies, then how awkward and confusing it 
must be for people living in such a present and educated in this manner to stare at that phenomenon of the 
revival of the Dionysian spirit and the rebirth of tragedy, something which may only be understood by some 
analogy to the most profound principles of the as yet incomprehensible Hellenic genius. 

There is no other artistic period in which so-called culture and true art have stood more alienated from and 
averse to each other than what we witness with our own eyes nowadays. We understand why such a weak 
culture despises true art, for it fears such art will destroy it. But surely an entire form of culture, i.e., the 
Socratic-Alexandrian, must have run its full life after being able to culminate in such a delicate and 

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The Birth of Tragedy 
insignificant point as our present culture. 

When heroes like Schiller and Goethe couldn't succeed in breaking down that enchanted door which leads to 
the Hellenic magic mountain, when for all their most courageous struggles they reached no further than that 
yearning gaze which Goethe's Iphigeneia sent from barbaric Tauris over the sea towards her home, what is left 
for the imitators of such heroes to hope for, unless from some totally different side, untouched by all the 
efforts of previous culture, the door might suddenly open on its own — to the accompaniment of the 
mysterious sound of the reawakened music of tragedy. 

Let no one try to detract from our belief in a still imminent rebirth of Hellenic antiquity, for that's the only 
place where we find our hope for a renewal and reformation of the German spirit through the fiery magic of 
music. What would we otherwise know to name which amid the desolation and weariness of contemporary 
culture could awaken some comforting expectation for the future? We look in vain for a single powerfully 
branching root, for a spot of fertile and healthy soil — but everywhere there is dust, sand, ossification, and 
decay. Here a desperate, isolated man couldn't choose a better symbol than the knight with Death and the 
Devil, as Durer has drawn him for us, the knight in armour with the hard bronze gaze, who knows how to 
make his way along his terrible path, without wavering at his horrific companions — and yet without any hope, 
alone with his horse and hound. Such a Durer knight was our Schopenhauer: he lacked all hope, but he wanted 
the truth. There is no one like him. 

But how suddenly that wilderness of such an exhausted culture as the one I have just sketched out so gloomily 
changes when the Dionysian magic touches it! A tempest seizes everything worn out, rotten, broken apart, and 
stunted, wraps it in a red whirling cloud of dust, and lifts it like a vulture up into the air. In our bewilderment, 
our gaze seeks out what has disappeared, for what we see has risen up as if from oblivion into golden light, so 
full and green, so richly alive, so immeasurable and full of longing. Tragedy sits in the midst of this 
superfluity of life, suffering, and joy; with awe-inspiring delight it listens to a distant melancholy song, which 
tells of the mothers of being whose names are Delusion, Will, and Woe. 

Yes, my friends, believe with me in the Dionysian life and in the rebirth of tragedy. The age of the Socratic 
man is over: crown yourselves with ivy, take the thyrsus stalk in your hand, and don't be amazed when tigers 
and panthers lie down fawning at your feet. Only now you must dare to be tragic men, for you will be 
redeemed. You are to lead the Dionysian celebratory procession from India to Greece ! Arm yourselves for a 
hard battle, but have faith in the miracles of your god! 


Moving back from this tone of exhortation into a mood suitable for contemplation, I repeat that only from the 
Greeks can we learn what such a miraculously sudden awakening of tragedy can mean for the innermost 
fundamental life of a people. It is the people of tragic mystery who fight the Persian wars, and again the 
people who carried on these wars uses tragedy as an essential potion in their recovery. Who would have 
supposed that such a people, after being stirred right to their innermost being for several generations by the 
strongest paroxysms of the Dionysian demon, were still capable of a regular and powerful outpouring of the 
simplest political feeling, the most natural instinctive feeling for their homeland, the original manly desire to 

Nonetheless, if we always sense in that remarkable extension of oneself into one's surroundings associated 
with Dionysian arousal how Dionysian release from the shackles of individuality registers at first as a 
heightened indifference — even apathy and hostility — to the political instincts, on the other hand, Apollo, the 
nation builder, is also the genius of the principium individuationis [individualizing principle], and a sense of 
state and homeland cannot survive without an affirmation of the individual personality. 

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From ecstatic experience there is only one way out for a people, the route to Indian Buddhism, which, with its 
longing for nothingness, in order to be endurable requires those rare ecstatic states with their ascent above 
space, time, and individuality. These states, in their turn, demand a philosophy which teaches people to use 
some idea to overcome the unimaginable dreariness of intermediate states. In cases where the political drives 
are considered unconditionally valid, it's equally necessary for a people to turn to the path of the most extreme 
forms of secularization. The most magnificent but also the most terrifying example of this is the Roman 

Standing between India and Rome and forced to make a tempting choice, the Greeks succeeded in inventing a 
third form in classical purity. Of course, they did not make use of it for long, but for that very reason they 
made it immortal. That fact that the darlings of the gods die early holds in all things, but it's equally certain 
that then they live among the gods for ever. So people should not demand from the noblest thing of all that it 
should possess the hard-wearing durability of leather — that crude toughness characteristic of the Roman 
national impulses, for example, probably does not belong to the necessary predicates of perfection. 

But if we ask what remedies made it possible for the Greek in their great period, with the extraordinary 
strength of their Dionysian and political drives, not to exhaust themselves either with an ecstatic brooding or 
in a consuming pursuit of world power and worldly honour, but to reach that marvelous mixture — just as a 
noble wine makes one feel fiery and meditative at the same time — then we must keep in mind the immense 
power of tragedy, which stimulated the entire people, purifying them and giving them release. We will first 
sense its highest value when it confronts us, as with the Greeks, as the essence of all prophylactic healing 
potions, as the mediator between the strongest and inherently most disastrous characteristics of a people. 

Tragedy draws the highest ecstatic music into itself, so that, with the Greeks, as with us, it immediately brings 
music to perfection. But then it places the tragic myth and the tragic hero next to the music, who then, like a 
powerful Titan, takes the whole Dionysian world on his back and thus relieves us of it. On the other hand with 
the same tragic myth, in the person of the tragic hero, tragedy knows how to redeem us from the avid pressure 
for this existence and with a warning hand reminds us of another state of being and a higher pleasure for 
which the struggling hero, full of foreboding, is preparing himself, not through his victory but through his 

Tragedy places between the universal validity of its music and the listener sensitive to the Dionysian an 
awe-inspiring parable — the myth — and with that gives rise to an illusion, as if the music is only the 
production's highest device for bringing life to the plastic world of myth. Trusting in this noble deception, 
tragedy can now move its limbs in the dithyrambic dance and abandon itself unconsciously to an ecstatic 
feeling of freedom in which it would not dare to revel without that deception. 

The myth protects us from the music, while it, by contrast, immediately gives the music its highest freedom. 
In return, the music gives back to the tragic myth, as a return gift, an urgent and convincing metaphysical 
significance, of a kind which words and pictures never could attain without its help. And particularly through 
the music there comes over the spectator of tragedy that certain presentiment of the highest joy, the road to 
which leads through destruction and negation, so that he thinks what he hears is like the innermost abyss of 
things speaking to him out loud. 

If in these last sentences I have perhaps tried to provide only a provisional expression of this complex idea, 
something immediately intelligible to few people, at this very point I cannot refrain from encouraging my 
friends to a further attempt and from asking them to prepare themselves with a single example of our common 
experience in order to recognize a general principle. 

With this example, I must not refer to those who use the images of the action in the scenes — the words and 
emotions of active people — in order with their help to come closer to the feeling of the music. For none of 

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them speaks music as a mother tongue, and, for all that help, they proceed no further than the lobbies of 
musical perception, without ever being able to touch its innermost shrine. Some of these who take this road, 
like Gervinus, don't even succeed in reaching the lobby. But I must turn only to those who have an immediate 
relationship with music and who find in it, as it were, their mother's womb, those who stand bound up with 
things almost exclusively through an unconscious musical relationship. 

To these true musicians I direct the question: Can they imagine a person capable of perceiving the third act of 
Tristan and Isolde as an immense symphonic movement, getting no help from words and images, without 
suffocating from a convulsive spreading of all the wings of his soul? A man who, as in this case, has set his 
ear, so to speak, on the heart chambers of the world's will, who feels in himself the raging desire for existence 
pouring forth into all the veins of the world as a thundering rainstorm or as the most delicately spraying 
brook — would such a man not fall apart on the spot? Could he endure hearing in the suffering glass case of 
human individuality the echo of countless desires — and cries of woe from the "wide space of the world's 
night," without, in the midst of this shepherd's medley of metaphysics, inexorably flying off to his original 
home? But what if nonetheless such a work could be perceived as a totality, without the denial of individual 
existence, what if such a creation could be produced without shattering its creator — where do we get the 
solution to such a contradiction? 

Here between our highest musical excitement and this music the tragic myth and the tragic hero interpose 
themselves, basically only as a parable of the most universal facts of all, about which only music can speak 
directly. However, if we felt as purely Dionysian beings, then myth would be entirely ineffectual as a parable 
and would remain there beside us unnoticed. It would not make us turn our ears away for an instant from 
listening to the echo of the universalia ante rem [the universal before the fact]. 

But here the Apollonian power breaks through, preparing for the reintegration of shattered individuality with 
the healing balm of blissful illusion. Suddenly we think we see only Tristan, motionless and dazed, as he asks 
himself, "The old melody — what does it awaken for me?" And what earlier struck us as an empty sigh from 
the centre of being now only says to us something like "the barren, empty sea." And where we imagined we 
were dying in a convulsive inner working out of all our feelings with only a little linking us to this existence, 
now we hear and see only the hero mortally wounded and yet not dying, with his cry full of despair, 
"Longing! Longing! In death still yearning not to die from yearning!" And when earlier, after such an excess 
and such a huge number of torments consuming us, the jubilation of the horns, almost like an extreme agony, 
cuts through our hearts, there stands between us and this "jubilation in itself the celebrating Kurwenal, turned 
towards the ship carrying Isolde. No matter how powerful the compassion gripping us inside, in a certain 
sense, nonetheless, this compassion saves us from the primordial suffering of the world, just as the symbolic 
picture of myth saves us from the immediate look at the highest world idea, just as thoughts and words save us 
from the unrestrained outpouring of the unconscious will. Because of that marvelous Apollonian deception it 
seems to us as if the empire of music confronted us as a plastic world, as if only Tristan's and Isolde's destiny 
had been formed and stamped out in pictures in the most delicate and expressive of all material. 

Thus the Apollonian rescues us from Dionysian universality and delights us with individuals. It attaches our 
aroused feelings of sympathy to them, and with them it satisfies our sense of beauty, our longing for great and 
awe-inspiring forms. It presents images of life to us and provokes us to a thoughtful grasp of the kernel of life 
contained in them. With the immense power of imagery, ideas, ethical instruction, and sympathetic arousal, 
the Apollonian lifts man up out of his ecstatic self-destruction and blinds him to the universality of the 
Dionysian process, leading him to the delusion that he is watching just one image of the world (for example, 
Tristan and Isolde) and that the music only helps him see it better and with greater profundity. 

What can the skilful healing power of Apollo's magic not achieve, if it can even excite in us this delusion, so 
that it seems as if the Dionysian is really working to serve the Apollonian, capable of intensifying its 
effects — in fact, as if the music was essentially an artistic presentation of an Apollonian content? 

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With that pre-established harmony which reigns between the perfect drama and its music, drama attains an 
extreme degree of vividness, something which verbal drama cannot approach. In the independently moving 
melodic lines all the living forms in the scene simplify themselves into the clarity of curved lines, and the 
juxtaposition of these lines sounds out to us, sympathizing in the most delicate way with the action as it 
moves forward. As this happens, the relation of things becomes immediately audible to us in a more 
sensuously perceptible way, which has nothing abstract about it at all, as we also recognize through it that 
only in these relations does the essence of a character and of a melodic line clearly reveal itself. 

And while the music compels us in this way to see more and more profoundly than ever and the scenic action 
spreads itself in front of us like a delicate spider's web, our inner view of the world of the stage is infinitely 
widened and illuminated from within. What could a word poet offer analogous to this — someone who 
struggles with a very imperfect mechanism in indirect ways to attain with words and ideas that inner 
expansion of the vivid world of the stage and its inner illumination? Musical tragedy, of course, also uses the 
word, but at the same time it can set beside it the fundamental basis and origin of that word and reveal to us 
from inside what that word has become. 

But nonetheless we could just as surely claim about this depiction of the action that it is only a marvelous 
appearance, i.e., that previously mentioned Apollonian delusion, through whose effects we should be relieved 
of the Dionysian surge and excess. In fact, the relationship between music and drama is fundamentally the 
reverse — the music is the essential idea of the word, and the drama is only a reflection of this idea, its isolated 

This identity between the melodic line and the living form, between the harmony and the relations of the 
characters in that form, is true in an sense opposite to what it might seem to be for us as we look at musical 
tragedy. We may well stir up the form in the most visible way, enliven and illuminate it from within, but it 
always remains only an appearance, from which there is no bridge leading to true reality, to the heart of the 
world. But music speaks out from this heart, and though countless appearances could clothe themselves in the 
same music, they would never exhaust its essence — they would always be only its external reflection. 

And, of course, with the complex relationship between music and drama nothing is explained and everything 
is confused by the popular and entirely false contrast between the soul and the body. But among our 
aestheticians it's precisely the unphilosophical crudity of this contrast which seems to have become, for 
reasons nobody knows, a well known article of faith, while they have learned nothing about the difference 
between the appearance and the thing-in-itself or, for similarly unknown reasons, don't want to learn 

If one result of our analysis might be that the Apollonian in tragedy, thanks to its deception, emerges 
victorious over the primordial Dionysian elements of music and makes use of these for its own purposes, that 
is, for the highest dramatic clarity, a very important reservation naturally follows: at the most essential point 
of all that Apollonian deception is broken up and destroyed. Drama, which, with the help of music, spreads 
out in front of us with such innerly illuminated clarity in all its movements and forms, as if we were seeing the 
fabric on the loom while the shuttle moves back and forth, achieves its effect as a totality which lies beyond 
all the artistic workings of the Apollonian. In the total action of tragedy the Dionysian regains its superiority 
once more. Tragedy ends with a tone which never could resound from the realm of Apollonian art. 

And as that happens, the Apollonian deception reveals itself for what it is, as the veil which, so long as the 
tragedy is going on, has covered the essentially Dionysian effect. But this Dionysian effect is nonetheless so 
powerful that at the end it drives the Apollonian drama itself into a sphere where it begins to speak with 
Dionysian wisdom and where it denies itself and its Apollonian visibility. So we could truly symbolize the 
complex relationship between the Apollonian and the Dionysian in tragedy with the fraternal bond between 
both divinities: Dionysus speaks the language of Apollo, but Apollo finally speaks the language of Dionysus, 

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and with that the highest goal of tragedy and art in general is attained. 


An attentive friend should remind himself, from his own experience, of the pure and unmixed effect of a truly 
musical tragedy. I think I have described what this effect is like, attending to both aspects of it, so that he 
will now know how to clarify his own experience for himself. For he will recall how, confronted with the 
myth unfolding in front of him, he felt himself raised up to some sort of omniscience, as if now the visual 
power of his eyes was not merely a force dealing with surfaces but was capable of penetrating within, as if, 
with the help of the music, he could see in front him the turbulent feelings of the will, the war of motives, the 
growing storm of passions as something which is, as it were, sensuously present, like an abundance of living 
lines and figures in motion, and thus as if he could plunge into the most delicate secrets of unknown emotions. 

As he becomes conscious of this highest intensification of his instincts which aim for clarity and 
transfiguration, nonetheless he feels with equal certainty that this long series of Apollonian artistic effects 
does not produce that delightful indifference of will-less contemplation which the sculptor and the epic 
poet — that is, the genuine Apollonian artist — bring out in him with their works of art, that is, the justification 
of the world of the individual attained in that contemplation, which is the peak and essence of Apollonian art. 
He looks at the transfigured world of the stage and yet denies it. 

He sees the tragic hero in front of him in his epic clarity and beauty and, nonetheless, takes pleasure in his 
destruction. He understands the scenic action to its innermost core, and yet joyfully flies off into the 
incomprehensible. He feels the actions of the hero as justified and is, nonetheless, still more uplifted when 
these actions destroy the one who initiated them. He shudders at the suffering which the hero is about to 
encounter and, nonetheless, because of it has a premonition of a higher, much more overpowering joy. He 
perceives more things and more profoundly than ever before and yet wishes he were blind. 

Where would we be able to derive this miraculous division of the self, this collapse of the Apollonian climax, 
if not from Dionysian magic, which, while it apparently excites the Apollonian feelings to their highest point, 
nevertheless can still force this exuberance of Apollonian art into its service? The tragic myth can only be 
understood as a symbolic picture of Dionysian wisdom by means of Apollonian art. It leads the world of 
appearances to its limits where it denies itself and once again seeks to fly back into the bosom of the true and 
single reality, at which point it seems, like Isolde, to sing its metaphysical swan song. 

In the surging torrents 
of seas of my desires, 
in resounding tones 
of fragrant waves, 
in the blowing All 
of the world ' s breath — 
to drown, to sink down 
to lose consciousness — 
the highest joy. 

So we remember the experiences of the truly aesthetic listener, the tragic artist himself, as he, like a 
voluptuous divinity of individualism, creates his forms — in which sense his work can scarcely be understood 
as an ' imitation of nature " — and as his immense Dionysian drive then devours this entire world of 
appearances in order to allow him, through its destruction, to have a premonition of the original and highest 
artistic joy in the primordial One. 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

Of course, our aestheticians don ' t know what to write about this return journey to our original home, about 
the fraternal bond of the brother gods of art in tragedy, any more than they do about the Apollonian or the 
Dionysian excitement of the listener, while they never weary of characterizing as the essential feature of the 
tragic the struggle of the hero with fate, the victory of a moral world order, or the purging of the emotions 
achieved by tragedy. Such tireless efforts lead me to the thought that in general they may be men incapable 
of aesthetic excitement, so that when they hear a tragedy perhaps they think of themselves only as moral 

Since Aristotle, there has not yet been an explanation of the tragic effect from which one might be able to 
infer aesthetic conditions or the aesthetic capability of the listener. Sometimes pity and fear are supposed to 
be pushed by the serious action to an discharge which brings relief. At other times, we are supposed to feel 
enthusiastic and elevated because of the victory of good and noble principles, by the sacrifice of the hero, 
taking that as a service to a moral world order. 

I have no doubt that for countless men that and only that is precisely the effect of tragedy. But this reveals 
equally clearly that all these people, together with their aesthetic interpreters, have experienced nothing of 
tragedy as the highest art. That pathological purgation, the catharsis of Aristotle, which the philologues are 
uncertain whether to count a medical or a moral phenomenon, brings to mind a remarkable idea of Goethe ' s. 

' Without a living pathological interest, " he says, ' I have also never succeeded in working on any kind of 
tragic situation, and therefore I prefer to avoid it rather than seek it out. Could it perhaps be the case that 
among the merits of the ancients the highest degree of the pathetic was also only aesthetic play for them, 
while with us the truth of nature must be there as well in order for such a work to be produced? " 

After our glorious experiences we can now answer yes to this profound question — after we have experienced 
with wonder precisely this musical tragedy, how truly the highest degree of the pathetic can be, for all that, 
only an aesthetic game. For that reason, we ' re justified in claiming that only now can the primordial 
phenomenon of the tragic be described with some success. Anyone who nowadays still provides 
explanations in terms of those surrogate effects from spheres beyond aesthetics and doesn ' t sense that he has 
risen above the pathological and moralistic processes may well despair of his aesthetic nature. For that 
condition we recommend as an innocent substitute the interpretation of Shakespeare the way Gervinus does it 
with the diligent search for ' poetic justice. " 

So with the rebirth of tragedy the aesthetic listener is also born again, in whose place up to this point a strange 
quid pro quo habitually sat in the theatre space, with half moral and half scholarly demands — the ' critic. " In 
his sphere so far everything has been only synthetic and whitewashed with the appearance of life. The 
performing artist in fact didn ' t really know what he could begin to do with a listener who behaved so 
critically, and therefore he, together with dramatist or opera composer who inspired him, peered anxiously for 
the last remnants of life in this discriminating, barren creature incapable of enjoying itself. 

But up to this point the general public has consisted of this sort of ' critic. " Through education and the press, 
the student, the school child, indeed even the most harmless female creature has been prepared, without being 
aware of it, to perceive a work of art in a similar manner. The more noble natures among the artists, faced 
with such a public, counted on exciting moral and religious forces, and the call for ' a moral world view " 
stepped in vicariously, where, in fact, a powerful artistic magic should have entranced the real listener. 
Alternatively, dramatists with a pronounced and at least exciting proclivity for contemporary political and 
social issues brought out such clear productions that the listener could forget his critical exhaustion and let 
himself go with feelings like patriotism or militaristic moments, or in front of the speaker ' s desk in 
parliament or with judicial sentences for crimes and vices. And that necessarily led to an alienation from true 
artistic purposes and directly to a culture of attitudinizing. 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

But here there stepped in, what in every artificial art up to now has intervened, a ragingly quick deprivation of 
that very attitudinizing, so that, for example, the view that the theatre should be used as an institution for the 
moral education of a people, something taken serious in Schiller ' s day, is already counted among the 
incredible antiquities of an education which has been superceded. As the critic came to rule in the theatre and 
concert and the journalist in the schools and the press in society, art degenerated into an object of 
entertainment of the basest sort, and the aesthetic critic was used as a way of binding together in a vain, 
scattered, selfish, and, beyond this, pitifully unoriginal society, of which we can get some sense in 
Schopenhauer ' s parable of the porcupines, so there has never been a time when there has been so much 
chatter about art and when people think so little of it. But can't we still associate with someone who is in a 
position to entertain himself with Beethoven and Shakespeare? Everyone may answer this question 
according to his own feelings — with his answer he will at any rate demonstrate what he imagines by the word 
' culture, " provided he seeks to answer the question at all and is not already struck dumb with astonishment. 

By contrast, someone with a nobler and more naturally refined ability — even if he also has 
gradually turned into a critical barbarian in the manner described above — could say 
something about an unexpected and entirely incomprehsible effect of the sort which 
something like a happily successful production of Lohengrin had on him, except perhaps he 
didn ' t have a hand which could advise him and clearly lead him, so that that 
incomprehensibly varied and totally incomparable sensation which so shook him at the time 
remained a single example and, after a short period of illumination, died out, like a 
mysterious star. That was the moment he had a presentiment of what an aesthetic listener 


Anyone who wants an accurate test for himself to see how closely related he is to the truly aesthetic listener or 
how much he belongs with the Socratic-critical community could sincerely ask himself about the feelings 
with which he receives some miracle presented on stage. In that situation, for example, does he feel offended 
in his historical sense, which organizes itself on strict psychological causality, or does he, in a spirit of 
generosity, as it were, make a concession to the miracle as something comprehensible in childhood but foreign 
to him, or does he suffer anything else at all in that process? 

For in doing this he will be able to measure how far, in general, he is capable of understanding the myth, the 
concentrated image of the world, which, as an abbreviation of appearance, cannot work without the miracle. 
However, it ' s likely that almost everyone in a strict test would feel himself so thoroughly corrupted by the 
critical-historical spirit of our culture that he could make the previous existence of the myth credible only 
with something scholarly, by compromising with some abstractions. However, without myth that culture 
forfeits its healthy creative natural power: only a horizon reorganized through myth completes the unity of an 
entire cultural movement. 

Through myth all the powers of illusion and of Apollonian dream are first rescued from their random 
wandering around. The images of myth must be the unseen, omnipresent demonic sentries under whose care 
the young soul matures and by whose signs a man interprets his life and struggles for himself. Even the state 
knows no more powerful unwritten laws than the mythical foundation which guarantees its connection to 
religion, its growth out of mythic ideas. 

Alongside that let ' s now place abstract people, those who are not led by myths, as well as abstract education, 
abstract customs, abstract law, the abstract state. Let ' s remember the disorderly roaming of artistic phantasy 
which is not restrained by any secret myth. Let ' s imagine a culture which has no fixed and sacred 
primordial seat but which is condemned to exhaust all possibilities and to live on a meagre diet from all other 
cultures — and there we have the present, the result of that Socratism whose aim is to destroy myth. 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

And now the man without a myth stands there, eternally hungry, in the midst of all past ages, rummaging 
around and digging as he looks for roots, even if he has to shovel for them in the most remote ancient times. 
What is revealed in the immense historical need of this dissatisfied modern culture, the gathering up of 
countless other cultures, the consuming desire to know, if not the loss of myth, the loss of the mythic 
homeland, of the mythic maternal womb? 

Let ' s ask ourselves whether the feverish and eerie inner excitements of this culture is something other than a 
starving man ' s greedy snatch and grab for food — and who would still want to give such a culture anything, 
when nothing which it gobbles down satisfies it and when, at its touch, the most powerful and healthiest 
nourishment usually changes into ' history and criticism. " 

We would also have to experience painful despair over our German being, if it is already inextricably 
intermixed in a similar way with its culture, or, indeed, if they have become a single unit, as we can observe, 
to our horror, with civilized France. What for a long time constituted the great merit of France and the cause 
of its huge superiority — that very unity of being in people and culture — should make us, when we look at it, 
praise our luck and give thanks that such a questionable culture has had nothing in common up to this point 
with the noble core of our people ' s character. 

Instead of that, all our hopes are reaching out yearningly towards the perception that under his restless cultural 
life jumping around here and there and these cultural convulsions lies hidden a glorious, innerly healthy, and 
age-old power, which naturally only begins to stir into powerful motion at tremendous moments and then 
goes on dreaming once again about a future awakening. Out of this abyss the German Reformation arose. In 
its choral music there rang out for the first time the future style of German music. Luther ' s choral works 
sounded as profound, courageous, spiritual, as exhuberantly good and tender as the first Dionysian call rising 
up out of the thickly growing bushes at the approach of spring. In answer to it came the competing echo of 
that solemn procession of Dionysian dreamers, whom we have to thank for German music and whom we will 
thank for the rebirth of the German myth! 

I know that now I have to take the sympathetic friend who is following me to a lofty place for lonely 
contemplation, where he will have only a few travelling companions. By way of encouragement I call out to 
him that we have to keep hold of those leaders who illuminate the way for us, the Greeks. Up to now in order 
to purify our aesthetic awareness, we have borrowed from them both of those images of the gods, each of 
whom rules a specific artistic realm, and by considering Greek tragedy, we came to an awareness of their 
mutual contact and intensification. 

To us the downfall of Greek tragedy must seem to have occurred through a remarkable tearing apart of both of 
these primordial artistic drives. And this event corresponded to a degeneration and transformation of the 
character of the Greek people — something which demands from us some serious reflection about how 
necessarily and closely art and people, myth and custom, tragedy and the state are fundamentally intertwined. 

That downfall of tragedy was at the same time the downfall of myth. Up to that point the Greeks were 
instinctively compelled to tie everything they lived through immediately to their myths — in fact, to understand 
that experience only through this link. By doing that, even the most recent present moment had to appear to 
them at once sub species aeterni [under the eye of eternity] and thus, in a certain sense, to be timeless. In this 
stream of the timeless, however, the state and art both plunged equally, in order to find in it rest from the 
weight and the greed of the moment. And a people (as well as a person, by the way) is only worth as much as 
it can stamp upon its experiences the mark of the eternal, for in that way it is, as it were, relieved of the burden 
of the world and demonstrates its unconscious inner conviction of the relativity of time and of the True, that 
is, of the metaphysical meaning of life. 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

Something quite different from this happens when a people begins to understand itself historically and to 
smash up the mythic bastions standing around it. It is customary for a decisive secularization, a breach with 
the unconscious metaphysics of its earlier existence, with all the ethical consequences, to be tied in with this 
process. Greek art and especially Greek tragedy above all checked the destruction of myth. People had to 
destroy them in order to be able to live detached from their home soil, unrestrained in the wildness of thought, 
custom, and action. 

But now this metaphysical drive still tries to create, even in a toned down form, a transfiguration for itself, in 
the Socratism of science which pushes toward life. But on the lower steps this very drive led only to a 
feverish search, which gradually lost itself in a pandemonium of myths and superstitions from all over the 
place all piled up together. For all that, the Hellene still sat in the middle this pile with an unquenched heart, 
until he understood to mask that fever, like Graeculus, with Greek cheerfulness and Greek negligence or to 
plunge completely into some stupefying oriental superstition or other. 

In the most obvious way, since the reawakening of Alexandrian-Roman antiquity in the fifteenth century after 
a long and difficult to describe interval, we have come closer to this condition. Up on the heights this same 
abundant desire for knowledge, the same dissatisfied happiness in discovery, the same immense 
secularization, alongside a homeless wandering around, a greedy thronging at foreign tables, a reckless 
idolizing of the present or a lifeless numbed turning away — with everything sub specie saeculi [under the eye 
of the secular age], of the ' present age. " 

These same symptoms lead us to suspect the same lack at the heart of this culture — the destruction of myth. 
It seems hardly possible that transplanting a foreign myth would enjoy any lasting success, without 
irreparably damaging the tree in the transplant. Perhaps it is at some point strong and healthy enough to slice 
out this foreign element with a fearful struggle, but usually it must proliferate its diseased condition, sick and 

We have such a high regard for the pure and powerful core of the German being that it is precisely there we 
dare to expect from it that elimination of powerfully planted foreign elements and consider it possible that the 
German spirit will come back into an awareness of itself on its own. Perhaps some people will think that this 
spirit would have start its struggle with the elimination of the Romantic But at that point he has to remember 
an external preparation and encouragement in the victorious courage and bloody glory of the recent war but 
search for the inner necessity in the competitive striving always to be worthy of the noble pioneers on this 
road, including Luther just as much as our great artists and poets. 

But let him never believe that he can fight such a battle without his house gods, without his 
mythic homeland, without a ' bringing back " of all German things! And if the German in his 
hesitation should look around him for a leader who will take him back again to his long lost 
home land, whose roads and pathways he hardly knows any more, let him only listen to the 
sweet enticing call of the Dionysian bird hovering above him seeking to show him the way. 


Among the characteristic artistic effects of musical tragedy we had to stress an Apollonian illusion through 
which we are supposedly rescued from immediate unity of being with the Dionysian music, while our musical 
excitement can discharge itself in an Apollonian sphere, in a visible middle world which interposed itself. By 
doing this we though we had noticed how, through this discharge, that this middle world of the scenic action, 
the drama in general, to a certain degree became visible and comprehensible from within, in a way which is 
unattainable in all other Apollonian art. Hence, it was here, where the Apollonian is energized and raised 
aloft, as it were, through the spirit of the music, we had to recognize the highest intensification of its power 
and, therefore, in the fraternal bond of Apollo and Dionysus the highest point of both Apollonian and 

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Dionysian artistic aims. 

Of course, the projected Apollonian image with this inner illumination through music does not achieve the 
effect characteristic of the weaker degrees of Apollonian art — what epic or animated stone are capable of, 
compelling the contemplating eye to that calm delight in the world of the individual. In spite of a higher 
animation and clarity, that effect will not permit itself to be attained 

We looked at drama and with a penetrating gaze forced our way into the inner moving world of its 
motives — and nonetheless for us it was as if only an allegorical picture passed before us, whose most 
profound meaning we thought we could almost guess and which we wanted to pull aside, like a curtain, in 
order to look at the primordial image behind it. The brightest clarity of the image did not satisfy us. For this 
seemed to hide just as much as it revealed. And while, with its allegorical-like revelation, it seemed to 
promise to rip aside the veil, to disclose the mysterious background, once again that penetrating light 
illuminating everything held the eye in its spell and held it from penetrating any more deeply. 

Anyone who has not had the experience of having to watch and, at the same time, of yearning to go above and 
beyond watching will have difficulty imagining how definitely and clearly these two processes exist together 
and are felt alongside each other as one observes the tragic myth. However, the truly aesthetic spectators will 
confirm for me that among the peculiar effects of tragedy this co-existence may be the most remarkable. 

If we now translate this phenomenon going on in the aesthetic spectator into an analogous process in the tragic 
artist, we will have understood the genesis of the tragic myth. He shares with the Apollonian sphere of art the 
full joy in appearances and in watching — at the same time he denies this joy and has an even higher 
satisfaction in the destruction of the visible world of appearances. 

The content of the tragic myth is at first an epic event with the glorification of the struggling hero. But what 
is the origin of that inherently mysterious feature, the fact that the suffering in the fate of the hero, the most 
painful victories, the most agonizing opposition of motives, in short, the exemplification of that wisdom of 
Silenus, or, expressing it aesthetically, of the ugly and dissonant, in so many countless forms, is presented 
with such fondness, always renewed — and precisely in the richest and youngest age of a people? Do we not 
perceive in all this a higher pleasure? 

For the fact that in life things are really so tragic would at least account for the development of an art form — if 
art is not only an imitation of natural reality but a metaphysical supplement to that reality, set beside it in 
order to overcome it. And the tragic myth, in so far as it belongs to art at all, also participates fully in this 
general purpose of art to provide metaphysical transfiguration. But what does it transfigure, when it leads 
out the world of appearance in the image of the suffering hero? Least of all the ' Reality " of this world of 
appearances, for it says directly to us: ' Look here! Look right here! This is your life! Tis is the hour hand 
on the clock of your existence ! " 

And does the myth show us this life in order to transfigure it for us? If not, in what does the aesthetic joy 
consist with which we also allow these images to pass in front of us? I ask about aesthetic delight and know 
full well that many of these images can in addition now and then still produce a moral pleasure, for example, 
in the form of pity or a moral triumph. But whoever wants to derive the effect of the tragic merely from these 
moral origins — as, of course, has been customary in aesthetics for far too long — should not think that he has 
then done anything for art, which above all must demand purity in its realm. For an explanation of the tragic 
myth the very first demand is that he seek that joy characteristic of it in the purely aesthetic sphere, without 
reaching over into the territory of pity, fear, and the morally sublime. How can the ugly and dissonant, the 
content of the tragic myth, excite an aesthetic delight? 

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The Birth of Tragedy 

Here it is necessary for us to vault with a bold leap into a metaphysics of art, in which I repeat an earlier 
sentence — that existence and the world appear justified only as an aesthetic phenomenon. It ' s in this sense 
that the tragic myth has to convince us that even the ugly and dissonant are an artistic game, which the will, in 
the eternal abundance of its joy, plays with itself. But there ' s a direct way to make this ur-phenomenon of 
Dionysian art, so difficult to comprehend, completely understandable and to enable one to grasp it 
immediately — through the miraculous meaning of musical dissonance, the way the music, set next to the 
world, is the only thing that can give an idea of what it means to understand a justification of the world as an 
aesthetic phenomenon. The joy which the tragic myth produces has the same homeland as the delightful 
sensation of dissonance in music. The Dionysian, together with its primordial joy felt even in pain, is the 
common birth womb of music and the tragic myth. 

Thus, shouldn ' t we have made that difficult problem of the tragic effect really much easier now that we have 
called on the relation of musical dissonance to help us? For now we understand what it means in tragedy to 
want to keep looking and at the same time to yearn for something beyond what we see. We would have to 
characterize this condition in relation to the artistic use of dissonance precisely as the fact that we want to 
keep listening and at the same time yearn to get beyond what we hear. 

That striving for the infinite, the wing beat of longing, associated with the highest delight in clearly perceived 
reality, reminds us that in both states we must recognize a Dionysian phenomenon, which always reveals to us 
all over again the playful cracking apart and destruction of the world of the individual as the discharge of 
primordial delight, in a manner similar to the one in which gloomy Heraclitus compares the force constructing 
the world to a child who playfully sets stones here and there, builds sand piles, and then knocks them down 

And thus in order to assess the Dionysian capability of a people correctly, we have to think not just about their 
music; we must also to think about their tragic myth as the second feature of that capacity. Given this closest 
of relationships between music and myth, now we can in a similar way assume that a degeneration or 
deprivation of one of them will be linked to a decline in the other, if a weakening of myth in general manifests 
itself in a weakening of the Dionysian capability. 

But concerning both of these, a look at the development of the German being should leave us in no doubt: in 
the opera as well as in the abstract character of our myth-deprived existence, in an art which has sunk down 
to mere entertainment as well as in a life guided by concepts, that inartistic and equally life-draining nature of 
Socratic optimism stands revealed. 

For our consolation, however, there are indications that in spite of everything the German spirit rests and 
dreams in magnificent health, its profundity and Dionysian power undamaged, like a knight sunk down in 
slumber in an inaccessible abyss. And from this abyss, the Dionysian song rises up to us in order to make us 
understand that this German knight is also still dreaming his age-old Dionysian myth in solemn blissful 
visions. Let no one believe that the German spirit has lost for ever its mythic homeland, when it still 
understands so clearly the voice of the birds which tell of that homeland. One day it will find itself awake in 
all the morning freshness of an immense sleep. Then it will kill dragons, destroy the crafty dwarf, and awake 
Brunnhilde — and even Wotan ' s spear itself will not be able to block its way. 

My friends, you who have faith in Dionysian music, you also know what tragedy means to us. 
In it we have the tragic myth, reborn from music — and in it you must hope for everything 
and forget what is most distressing! The most painful thing, however, for all of us is 
this — the long degradation under which the German genius, alienated from house and home, 
has lived in service to that crafty dwarf. You understand my words — as you also will 
understand my hopes as I conclude. 

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The Birth of Tragedy 


Music and tragic myth are equally an expression of the Dionysian capacity of a people and are inseparable 
from each other. Both derive from an artistic realm that lies beyond the Apollonian. Both transfigure a 
region in whose joyful chords dissonance as well as the terrible image of world fade delightfully away. Both 
play with the sting of joylessness, trusting in the extreme power of their magical arts. Through this play both 
justify the existence of even the ' worst of worlds. " Here the Dionysian shows itself, measured against the 
Apollonian, as the eternal and primordial artistic force, which summons the entire world of appearances into 
existence. In its midst a new transfiguring illusion becomes necessary in order to keep alive the living world 
of the individual. Could we imagine some human development of dissonance — and what is a man other than 
that? — then this dissonance, in order to capable of life, would need a marvelous illusion, which covered it 
with a veil of beauty over its essential being. This is the true artistic purpose of Apollo, in whose name we 
put together all those countless illusions of beautiful appearances which render existence at every moment in 
general worth living and push us to experience the next moment. 

But in this process, from that basis for all existence, the Dionysian bed rock of the world, only as much can 
come into the consciousness of the human individual as can be overcome once more by that Apollonian power 
of transfiguration, so that both of these artistic drives are compelled to display their powers in a strictly mutual 
proportion, in accordance with the law of eternal justice. Where Dionysian power rises up as impetuously as 
we are seeing it rise, there Apollo must already have come down to us, hidden in a cloud. The next 
generation may well see the richest his beautiful effects. 

However, the fact that this effect is necessary each man will experience most surely through his intuition, if he 
once, even in a dream, feels himself set back into the life of the ancient Greeks. As he wanders under high 
Ionic colonnades, glancing upwards to a horizon marked off with pure and noble lines, with reflections of his 
transfigured form beside him in shining marble, around him people solemnly striding or moving delicately, 
with harmoniously sounding lutes and a speech of rhythmic gestures — faced with this constant stream of 
beauty, would he not have to extend his hand to Apollo and cry out: ' Blessed Hellenic people! How great 
Dionysus must be among you, if the Delphic god thinks such magic necessary to heal your dithyrambic 
madness! " To a person in such a mood as this, however, an old Athenian, looking at him with the noble eye 
of Aeschylus, might reply: ' But, you strange foreigner, how much must these people have suffered in order to 
be able to become so beautiful! But now follow me to the tragedy and sacrifice with me in the temple of both 
divinities. " 

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